“We have 7,000 islands and if we rape the islands… and 95 percent of the wealth goes out of those islands, we will never see the light of day,”former DENR Secretary Gina Lopez said, in a report in 2017.
After Severe Tropical Storm Maring battered the southern part of Palawan, inundated some municipalities, and claimed half a dozen lives, Lopez’s statements against mining as well as the “No to Mining in Palawan” banner have again been plastered on my social media feeds, which reminded me of a study I conducted about mining discourse in the country a couple of years ago.
The Philippines, as we know, is considered the fifth most mineral-rich country in the world for gold, nickel, copper, and chromite. This fact piqued my curiosity to study how mining-related issues were linguistically constructed by the media. I surveyed hundreds of mining news reports published from 2012-2017 by the three leading national broadsheets in the country and compared them to local media’s representation of mining issues.
Among others, I found that mining news discourse anchors heavily on economic issues and not on the grounds of environmental protection and other similar concerns. For example, when former DENR Secretary Lopez suspended the majority of mining firms in the country in 2016, I observed that the media tended to foreground the economic benefits of the mineral industry and seemingly downplayed its impact on the environment and livelihood of the people in the community.
Moreover, I also observed that the media has the tendency to appropriate more space for the discourse position of prominent personalities, and those “ordinary” people were only highlighted or named when unfortunate events occurred such as mining mishaps.
To get a better perspective of the issue, I conducted interviews with local political leaders of the province regarding their mining views. The sitting city vice mayor then explained that striking a balance between environmental conservation and urbanization is a challenge, citing a moratorium policy on gravel and sand quarry, which the Puerto Princesa City (PPC) Council had to lift because of the high demand for construction supply in the city. He said that the policy caused a delay and incurred additional expenses in infrastructure projects of the government and other private establishments as they had to import aggregates from neighboring provinces such as Mindoro and Marinduque.
Meanwhile, a municipal vice mayor expressed that the local government should be empowered and be given full authority in managing their mineral resources because they are at the forefront of local development. He said that they have a better appreciation of the impact of mining activities in their community; hence, they should be given full authority and control over their mines. However, the Local Government Code of 1991 states that local government units have the duty and authority to protect and comanage the environment subject to the policies of the national government.
In a dozen of political leaders that I’d interviewed from PPC and three towns of the province, the majority of them appeared to have a positive position on the mining industry in the province.
I agree that mining creates jobs and makes money for our government to finance its projects, but I also agree that mining destroys our environment. It ripped out our deep forests and natural resources. It pollutes our rivers and seas. It damages the livelihood of our farmers and fishermen. Choosing to mine or not to mine is like choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea. But we always have a choice. Our leaders always have a choice.
Next year, we will again choose our leaders. Before casting our votes, let’s study them, their actions, and positions. Whosoever we choose should have the hearts beating for the people and the future generations, and not only for themselves. We only have one vote to cast, make sure to choose “the one,” the right one, for our nation’s future.
Just like mining, we can ban those who are erring leaders, and accept those responsible ones.
Let’s be reminded once again that our province has been touted as the country’s “last ecological frontier,” let’s keep it that way!