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Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Planned divestment of Swiss mining giant in largest-ever single foreign investment in Tampakan Copper-Gold project in North Cotabao sad news, as it could further affect timid foreign investments in PH. P-Noy admin seeks to fight deepening poverty in rural areas with carpet-bombing of contraceptives such as the frightful “injectable”, when as late US President Reagan correctly pointed out, a developed economy is ‘best contraceptive.’


SMI's Tampakan Gold Copper Project site
Sad news for prospects of foreign investments in the Philippines:  reports say Swiss mining giant Glencore Xstrata has indicated to its Melbourne-based partner Indophil Resources NL a “preference” to divest of its interest in the $5.9 billion Tampakan copper-gold project in North Cotabato, the Sagittarius Mines, Inc. Reports say Glencore Xstrata has been considering this move since April last year due to considerable delays in the project.

Indophil Resources NL says it would try to work out a solution, but if this divestment happens, it could severely affect foreign investments in our country. For the Tampakan SMI project in North Cotabato represents the biggest single foreign investment ever in our country--- even bigger than the Malampaya drilling project for natural gas in offshore Palawan.  

This joint multi-billion multinational project has been in the pipeline for a considerable number of years now, but unfortunately it has been bogged down in delays by a lot of local politics and the wishy-washy handling by this administration. A collapse of this huge mining project would be tragic not only in terms of real incomes in a very poor region of the country, but also for its implications for foreign investments here which are already faring poorly.

PH bags the second lowest foreign direct investments (FDIs) among Asean countries---next to Laos. Certainly PH attracts the least among the five biggest economies in Asean.  

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Nearly three years ago this journalist was invited by the Tampakan people along with several others in media to see for ourselves this project. Officials briefed us on what they’re doing to handle the stickier aspects of the project such as the preservation of the environment and community acceptance. We learned, however, that on the very eve of the 2010 elections, the outgoing provincial board of Cotabato, led by then Gov.Daisy Avance Fuentes (who subsequently ran for the House), in what was truly a MIDNIGHT ruling---against objections from some members of the board---passed a ban on open-pit mining that virtually paralyzed impending operations for the company.

Seeing all the multi-billion dollar facilities already in place, I thought, why couldn’t conditions have been clarified in the initial stage?

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What’s tragic is that the area where Tampakan sits holds one of the largest gold deposits in Asia and perhaps in the world. To be sure, a few paragraphs in this blog won’t resolve the pros and cons of the long-running debate about the benefits vs. the pitfalls of mining; but it still boils down to the basic question that has been debated forever between the Chamber of Mines and the administration, and between various people's organizations, the Church, etc.

This is the fact that the Philippines is the 5th most mineralized country in the world, and in fact, prominent geologists like Dr. Carlo Arcilla, Chief of the UP Geological Institute, point out how fabulous some of our mineral deposits are---including some unique set-up of alternating layers of gold, silver and copper in given areas. And yet, because of vigorous opposition, including from leftist organizations, these mineral sites, except for a few thriving ones, remain unexplored because of fierce resistance. 

In the meantime, it is ironic that even as there's so much wealth under our earth, much of the Philippine rural countryside remains dirt-poor. I have confronted some prominent Church prelates with this dilemma.

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A very relevant issue that I raise is, how did countries with more advanced technology and stronger environmental commitment such as Canada and Australia, and once-impoverished Chile, now on near-First World status owing to its vigorous mining industry, tackle the problems of mineral exploitation? How do we balance serious ecological concerns for the benefit of the Filipino people who deserve a better life? In developing our natural resources we Filipinos should call the shots, but unfortunately some politicos sell their soul to the company store.

The answers lie in a number of factors that worked for those developed countries: laws and regulations that truly operate at national and local levels, bereft of politics and corruption and enforced in a no-nonsense manner. It still all boils down to the elimination of corruption---including pork barrel at congressional and local levels that have been stolen by corrupt politicos.

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While on the subject of poverty, reports about rampant and unabated smuggling in basic food commodities such as rice, pork and veggies in the daang-matuwid of President Aquino gravely affect our countryside and the lower income groups. Rampant smuggling affects the agricultural and fishing industries on which the rural population depends---since it’s easier to smuggle than to cultivate, these industries remain among the most afflicted. 

We city people are also affected in that the price of rice keeps going higher---now the cheapest kilo of rice in the city costs P41.

Because the agri-fishing sector remains so poor, people in the rural areas often abandon their lands (to cultivate them farmers often have to borrow capital from usurious Chinese lenders; if they run into bad luck with storms they run deeper into debt and ultimately lose the lands to lenders) and flock to the cities in search of work---straining the urban centers’ resources. 

This migration was aggravated by the string of calamities in the Visayas so that Metro Manila and Metro Cebu are truly bursting at the seams.

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Instead of cracking down on smuggling of basic food commodities and helping to resuscitate the agri and fishing sectors, however, our government is pushing the RH Law whose constitutionality is now being challenged in the Supreme Court. The RH law, passed by Congress amid tremendous bribery in December 2012, proposes to curb “runaway population” (indeed, running away from stagnated rural areas which have become depopulated) by carpet-bombing the poor with contraceptives to be imported mainly from China---including some deadly drugs called “injectable.”

The injectable injects into child-bearing women a contraceptive to prevent menstruation every three months, but what is now evident is that it causes some very harmful effects, including bleeding and renal damage.

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I happen to know this first-hand. My cook’s 25-year old daughter, mother of one and once a perfectly healthy woman with a good job, began to suffer renal failure after a year of being injected with this drug, so that she had to undergo dialysis three times a week for two years. Imagine the financial strain for her family. Thank God that now she’s down to once a week dialysis. Another woman, an employee of my son, suffered from cervical cancer after taking contraceptives for a prolonged period.  

The late former US President Ronald Reagan’s wise admonition holds: no better contraceptive than a good functioning economy.

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The Catholic bishops of the Philippines, at the close of their bi-annual plenary assembly late last month, lamented the worsening poverty in the country, terming it a “social scandal” that involves not just government but people’s attitudes. The bishops called on those who have more to share their wealth with those who have little or none at all.

As I have been pointing out in the preceding paragraphs, poverty is a cause-and-effect phenomenon and some of it derives from ideology. A good number of politicians are corrupt, and the poverty of their constituencies benefits them in terms of long-term dependency. The left-wing groups, on the other hand, want to also consolidate their hold on the poorer population, which is one reason they want to keep the mineral-rich areas undeveloped.  We journalists saw this for ourselves in Mindanao.

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Those who keep an eye on rural poverty note the revived strength of the insurgents in various areas. for instance, Star columnist Bobit Avila is correct in that peace won’t descend on Mindanao, even assuming the peace agreement being concluded with the MILF would work---until the NPA is defanged.

In this connection, there’s a worrisome point about the decommissioning of the firearms of the MILF as provided in the fourth annex to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro.  As stated there, the MILF won’t surrender their firearms to the military or the government, but to a “third party”---obviously so as not to rub salt on wounds. But the question is, how will this still unidentified entity dispose of these MILF firearms?

There is apprehension in various quarters that some unscrupulous elements would end up turning over to government rickety weapons while the high-powered ones could end up as sold to private armed groups and crime syndicates, or even to the NPA.




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