Often local, issues on mining include its destructive nature to local assets such as land and water, divisive feature to local communities, and contribution to local development. But GIna Lopez has made these local issues national. People now talk about environment as essential part of national patrimony. Locals travel to Manila to protest or support mining projects. Citizens question the contributions of mining to development. Worse, they even claim that mining contributes to poverty.
How could that be when mining has catalyzed economic activities through jobs, infrastructure works and businesses in economically stagnating localities? For these reasons, government officials and business people tend to favor and endorse mining projects in their localities.
Based on the data from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau in 2010, there were PhP13.41 billions of pesos in taxes, fees and royalties and 197,000 employed personnel in mining operations. Given these data, it is justified to think that mining areas would be economically better-off than non-mining areas. However, this is not supported by poverty statistics. In a 2011 paper by Balisacan, What has really happened to poverty in the Philippines: New measures, evidence, and policy implications, which presents various economic sectors and their contributions, the highest contributor to poverty incidence among economic sectors in 2009 was mining at 48.7 percent. In Balisacan paper, from 1988 to 2009, mining was the only sector of the economy that had an increasing contribution to poverty incidence from 27.8 to 48.7 percent. To illustrate this at a regional level using 2009 poverty data from the National Statistical Coordination Board and citing Christian Monsod’s Mining a social justice issue, regions with large mining areas had high poverty incidences, such as the Caraga region (47.5 percent), Bicol region (44.9 percent) and Zamboanga Peninsula region (42.7 percent), higher than the national average of 26 percent. In provincial levels, poverty incidences in mining areas, such as Masbate (54.2 percent) in Bicol region, Agusan del Sur (58.1 percent) in Caraga region, Zamboanga Sibugay (49.8 percent) on Zamboanga Peninsula, were higher than their regional averages.
Poverty statistics in these areas may not show a causal relationship between poverty and mining, but it does point to a correlation that challenges claims that mining reduces poverty and improves standards of living. An international report in 2001 by Oxfam-America found a strong correlation between extractive sectors (including mining) and poverty. In a local study in Rapu-Rapu Island by Emerlina Regis in 2004, mining was seen as the cause of poverty in Rapu-Rapu which remained to be one of the poorest municipality in Albay in spite of hosting a large polymetallic mining project.
While capital and technology in mining sector and their multipliers may have poverty-alleviating effects, issues of equity along with associated social and environmental costs may offset these effects. This creates two divides: the pro-mining side highlighting the advantages, such as revenue generation and development projects, whereas the anti-mining side pointing out environmental damages and a wide-range of issues related to governance, corruption, health and safety, thus contributing to poverty.
A 1983 study, The impact of corporate mining on local Philippine communities, by John McAndrew in Toledo City in Cebu described the positive impacts of mining that brought “enclaves of development within predominantly backward and stagnant areas,” as if two separate economies had co-existed in the city. In my own fieldwork in Rapu-Rapu, Albay in 2004-2005, barangays covered by mining operations exhibited considerable improvements in infrastructures and quality of life compared to other barangays. However, within those “improved” barangays, mining benefits were unevenly distributed to locals. This inequality sparked division within communities between those who earned their living directly or indirectly from mining and those who were displaced from their traditional livelihoods.
Lack of job opportunities and unstable income from traditional livelihoods characterize the prevailing conditions of local communities that host mining projects. Undermined by poverty, locals pin their hopes on mining which has its own rent-seeking intention.