Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Development by obfuscation

My favorite author Arundhati Roy once pointed out how ordinary writers differ from people in power. Writers, especially the good ones, promote understanding of people's complex realities by using words to bridge the gulf between thoughts and experiences. People in authority, particularly those who craft all those nice-sounding policies and programs, use words to mask intent and cloud understanding. I think this holds true for powerful Pinoys today in government who have put forward this idea of "responsible mining" and how it is going to help bring about the long anticipated development of the country. These people are dangling a bone to Juan and Maria -- this possibility of mining firms suffused with civic consciousness and going about tidily with their work. So desperate Juan and Maria are now silently confused, wondering once more whether to put their trust on these people and allow mining firms to wreak havoc on what is left of the Philippines' natural environment.

Because at its core, "responsible mining" is just that: another promise meant to ensnare people's hopes and distract them from all the ill effects of mining. Even more dangerous, such idea lures people into thinking that those who stand to benefit from renewed mining operations in the country would regulate their businesses and that government could just rest on its butt while waiting for all those mining-related economic growth to trickle down to poor people in rural areas. Even as these words are being written, jesters (my apologies to all genuine entertainers out there, i do love to watch comedy shows) within the Department of Environment and Natural Resources headed by Secretary Defensor seem to have already abandoned government's regulatory functions. They are now like thermostats in air conditioning systems, automatically clicking switches here and there when things get hot in the aftermath of environmental disasters, only to relax or completely forget what they were doing as soon as things cool down. Worse, these people have turned the DENR into one big promotional outfit for mining.

I wonder what other permutations, what other convoluted re-conceptualizations this responsible mining formulation would now have to take in light of the recent Rapu-Rapu mining accident in Albay. Deadly cyanide used in removing gold from its ore, and left in the mine tailings of the Australian Lafayette Mining Limited, have all leaked into local rivers and contaminated the surrounding ecosystems. In one testing site, local DENR officials detected cyanide level to be about .1ppm (standard allowable level was supposed to be only around .05 ppm). Responsible mining's number one promotional representative, Secretary Defensor of the DENR, was telling people and local officials in Albay last April 2005 that Lafayette's operation would prove to Pinoys that responsible mining is possible and not just a figment of his creative imagination (see article in DENR website). So, what now? Maybe a "genuinely responsible mining"? How about "favorable conditions for responsible mining"? But in all likelihood, the recent accident, as with all the previous mining disasters in the country, would just be swept neatly under the thick rug of this bureaucratic jargon as an "isolated incident". And after all the mandatory suspension of operations and fines have been meted out, everything should return to normal.

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