Sometime in 2011, I attended a public consultation conducted by the Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI) in Tampakan, South Cotabato. Their engineers and speakers constitute mainly of intelligent young professionals from prominent universities who spoke very well about their presentations.
The rainforest in Tampakan is among the remaining virgin forests in the Philippines. SMI speakers talked about how many species they have found and that they have discovered a new specie of frog in the said area. In one of the forums, the speakers discussed about the waste catchment that the company intends to put in the middle of the rivers of Tampakan area. According to them, the catchment will be safe. There will be no problem in the years to come because, definitely, they will ensure that the toxic waste will be buried very deep from the surface of the river.
During that discussion, the nuns of religious congregations and Local Government Unit (LGU) leaders of South Cotabata were present. The locals asked what if a huge earthquake happens and the catchments underneath the earth will leak? The SMI speakers replied that for some hundred years, only one or two huge earthquakes happened in areas of South Cotabato, and that definitely, it is not something to fear about. They say that earthquakes are rare, like they really know what will happen in the future.
The locals told SMI that of course, they can say that because they don’t live in South Cotabato, but the ones who will suffer will be the locals and their children born in that area. Interestingly, members of the Senate that time already gave a go signal to SMI and that there will only be the local stakeholders to ask approval from. One official told the presenters how apparent it was that the national leaders did not care about the plight of the people in the South. Of course, they won’t drink the water from the rivers of Tampakan. On another side, leaders of indigenous groups were having internal conflicts. They were fighting over the dumplings that the mining company were rumored to have been showering them. In the course of time, SMI was met with demonstrations headed by the church in alliance with the locals of the residents. SMI was not able to get the permit that they had asked for.
Seven years or so later, I looked back and I am grateful that no large scale mining was allowed in that area. With the formation of faultlines and the earthquakes going on in our regions, I want to ask those people from SMI where are their claims that there is nothing to worry about. The earth changes everytime, it will be unwise to speak about the future with only the past as the basis. Lest we forget, the earth is endlessly evolving. Who would have guessed that faultlines will appear these days.
Some say that mining activities were demonized by those who are against it. I don’t think so. Mining companies demonized it themselves. The people who stood up in defense of the environment saw with their own eyes how precarious it is when the precious veins of the earth are being torn apart. They have seen how it is when mercury mixes with our potable water. And oh, let us not forget Minamata disease.
While I am thankful that there are responsible mining companies that have emerged. I still cannot dismiss critical thinking from these activities. At the onset, most mining activities start with deforestation. It is so inhumane to deforest. It’s like giving away half of our lungs just so we can have other conveniences we can do without.
Some years ago, I also laboured to remove this care for the environment from my system. I thought that time that I needed to be practical and I that I must be able to harness the power of consumerism. With this in my psyche, I attended seminars about money and wealth. It was good but it all lost me when the speaker said, “Water? Don’t worry about water! Even if it runs out and it gets destroyed, someone will always discover some more. Someone will find the solution!” Hearing this, I knew I had to be honest with my humanity. We cannot just go around destroying while others desperately try to heal it. We have to make a choice. Freedom lies not solely in being able to get and do what we want anytime. Actually, freedom lies in our deep capacity for restraint. This goes even with the choices we make for the humanity’s very own habitat.