Mining and climate change: Aquino’s policy incoherence

The Aquino administration assures the public that it is proactively dealing with climate change but continues to promote programs like large-scale mining that aggravate the adverse impact of extreme weather events (Photo from facebook.com)

First published by The Philippine Online Chronicles

What caused the massive flooding in the provinces of Central and Northern Luzon, several of which remain submerged more than a week after  typhoons Pedring and Quiel left the country? Elderly village folks in affected areas swear that they have not seen such flooding before, that what happened was abnormal. For this, the catch-all explanation of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) is climate change. “What we consider as abnormal we should now consider as normal,” its undersecretary was quoted as saying.

But the Aquino administration assures the public that it is proactively dealing with the issue of climate change. In fact, President Benigno S. Aquino III has made Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation as one of the five Cabinet clusters that will implement his programs until 2016. In Aquino’s proposed 2012 budget, P36.2 billion is allocated for climate change adaptation and mitigation activities.

Priority area

Ironically, however, the Aquino administration also continues to promote programs that aggravate the vulnerability of the country to the adverse impact of climate change. One example is large-scale mining, which is among the priority areas of government’s Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2011-2016. While the PDP talks about linking the mining industry to the domestic production of manufactured goods and industrial products, its ultimate goal is to double the sector’s exports by 2016.

The importance that Malacañang gives to the mining industry as among the sectors with the “highest growth potentials and generate the most jobs” explains its strong reaction to the simultaneous attacks on three mining firms in Surigao de Norte last Oct. 3 by the New People’s Army (NPA). The rebels cited the serious harm to the environment being inflicted by the large-scale mining operations in the province as one of the main reasons for staging the attacks.

Massive deforestation

Mining contributes to both the cause and effect of climate change. The Philippines is considered one of the most mineralized countries in the world (third in gold, fourth in copper, fifth in nickel) due to its location along a belt of volcanoes in the Pacific. According to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), an estimated “nine million hectares of the Philippine total land area of 30 million hectares are geologically prospective for metallic minerals”. But much of these areas lie underneath the country’s forests, which have to be cleared to extract the minerals, resulting to massive deforestation. It has been reported that the Philippines ranks number three in the world (behind Honduras and Nigeria) with the fastest deforestation rate. The Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC) Philippines, citing government data, said that the country’s forest cover is just about 18% of the total land area.

Together with corporate logging, large-scale mining is behind the significant deforestation in the country. The forest cover in the town of Claver in Surigao del Norte, where the target of the recent NPA offensive –Taganito Mining Corp. (TMC), Taganito HPAL Nickel Corp., and Platinum Group Metals Corp. (PGMC) are operating – is just one in a long list of forests denuded by large-scale mining. Generated through Google Maps, a satellite image of Claver where TMC operates shows a vast portion of the mountains in reddish hue, indicating massive deforestation.

A recent documentary by the GMA’s “Reporter’s Notebook” also presented the extent of environmental damage, including deforestation, caused by the mining operations in Claver as well as in Surigao del Sur. The GMA report said that the massive mining in Claver has almost leveled the mountains with the extracted minerals being exported to Australia, China, and Japan for processing.

Aggravating climate change

The clearing of forests is one of the factors behind global climate change as forests store huge amounts of carbon. According to the Greenpeace, “when forests are logged or burnt, that carbon is released into the atmosphere, increasing the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases and accelerating the rate of climate change. So much carbon is released that they contribute up to one-fifth of global man-made emissions, more than the world’s entire transport sector.”

In the Reporter’s Notebook documentary on mining in Claver, reporter Jiggy Manicad noted the thick blanket of dust from the mining areas. Environmental advocacy group World Rainforest Movement (WRM) pointed out that this dust does not only pollute the air and causes serious health problems but also triggers a release of gases and toxic vapor, including “sulphur dioxide – responsible for acid rain – is produced because of metal treatment, and carbon dioxide and methane – two of the main greenhouse effect gases causing climate change – are also released, due to the burning of fossil fuels and the creation of artificial lakes for the hydroelectric dams, built to provide energy for the casting ovens and refineries.”

Of course, the amount of GHG emissions of the Philippines, including from deforestation, is dwarfed by the emissions of the world’s largest industrial countries. The US alone accounts for 25% of historical GHG emissions, according to the Friends of the Earth (FOE). Furthermore, much of the GHG emissions of poor countries actually come from the operation of First World companies plundering the natural resources of poor countries such as in the case of the Claver mines where Japanese giant mining company Sumitomo Metal Mining Co. has stakes in the TMC and Taganito HPAL Nickel Corp. Nonetheless, it does not downplay the incoherence in the Aquino administration’s proclaimed environment-conscious medium-term plan and its avowed promotion of supposed “development” programs that worsen climate change such as large-scale mining.

Worsening impact

But for Third World countries like the Philippines, the bigger concern is how deforestation and other environmental problems caused by large-scale mining increase the vulnerability of communities to extreme weather events such as unusual volume of rainfall (like typhoon Ondoy in 2009, which according to local weather officials poured a month’s volume of rain in barely six hours) due to climate change. Deforestation, for instance, aggravates flooding in rural and urban areas, which in the Philippines has become increasingly worse and more frequent. Forests play a crucial environmental role in preventing  floods. A report said, quoting the findings of a research conducted by the Charles Darwin University and the National University of Singapore, that “as little as 10% loss of forest cover leads to an increase of as much as 28% in flood risk.”

Another way that large-scale mining aggravates flooding is the siltation of rivers. One source of sediments are the tailings disposed by mining companies in rivers such as in the case of the Abra River that according to the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) has become heavily silted because of the tailings disposal of Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company. As a consequence, an estimated 465 hectares of riceland have been washed out, the CPA claimed. Experts have also attributed the heavy flooding in Centra Luzon, aside from the ill-timed release of water from privatized dams, to the siltation of rivers due to denuded mountains in the region, which also hosts a number of mining operations.

Not a recent concern

Contrary to the common notion, climate change is not a recent concern of the government. In fact, the Philippines was among the first to recognize, at least on paper, climate change as a phenomenon and the urgent need to address its causes and mitigate its impact. As early as 1991, Noynoy’s mother, the late President Cory Aquino has already created the Inter-Agency Committee on Climate Change (IACC) through Administrative Order (AO) No. 220.  The Philippines was also among the first to ratify the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change(UNFCC), which it did in 1994.

These initiatives suffer from basic defects such as the promotion of market-based mechanisms to mitigate climate change (e.g. allowing rich countries to buy cheap emission credits from poor countries which allow industrial countries to evade their responsibility to cut down their own emissions) as well as low emission reduction targets. Worse, as a result of lobbying and pressure from First World corporations and financial institutions and their local agents, Third World countries like the Philippines continue to implement programs that allow the wanton corporate plunder of natural resources and enormous destruction of the environment. A year after ratifying the UN agreement on climate change, for instance, the Philippine Congress passed the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 or Republic Act (RA) 7942, which liberalized and consequently intensified large-scale mining in the country.

Two decades since the country officially acknowledged the challenge of climate change, there is no indication that government is willing or capable to promote development programs that are truly sustainable and responsive to the country’s environmental and social concerns and economic needs. #

BALSA: an urgent appeal to help the victims of typhoon Pedring

To help in the ongoing relief efforts by various sectors for victims of typhoon Pedring, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) has re-launched the Bayanihan Alay sa Sambayanan (BALSA), a multisectoral campaign to raise relief goods and conduct relief distribution operations in calamity-hit communities. The group is currently accepting donations for its BALSA relief campaign. (See poster above for details)

According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council(NDRRMC), Pedring has affected more than 582,626 families or almost 2.73 million people in 3,252 barangays/300 municipalities/41 cities in 34 provinces of Regions I, II, III, IV-A, IV-B, the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), and the National Capital Region (NCR). Some 80,889 families or 362,552 people have been relocated to various evacuation centers. Meanwhile, official estimates as of Oct. 3 peg the cost of Pedring’s damage to properties and livelihood at more than P8.8 billion (or almost US$205 million at P43/US$), of which P7.55 billion (almost US$176 million) represent the cost of destroyed crops, livestock, and fisheries. Pedring also destroyed almost P1.25 billion (around US$29 million) worth of school buildings, hospitals, roads, bridges, and other important infrastructure. (Read the complete report of the NDRRMC here.)

In 2009, BAYAN also initiated BALSA relief drives to help those affected by typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng in Metro Manila, Laguna, Pangasinan, and Baguio. With the support of various organizations, relief formations, and institutions, BAYAN provided relief goods to around 4,300 families in 12 barangays in three cities and two provinces badly hit by the flooding and landslides.

(Read the complete report of the BALSA 2009 relief campaign here.)

For the victims of Pedring, BAYAN has already distributed last Oct. 1 the first batch of relief goods it has collected from various donors to residents of San Mateo, Rizal. (See photos here.)

Meanwhile, the Aquino administration blames climate change for the devastating storms that have hit the country in recent years, including Pedring, Ondoy, and Pepeng. But as BAYAN pointed out, while the string of calamities “served as a grim reminder of the reality of climate change and how vulnerable the country is especially with a government that is obviously ill-prepared to deal with natural disasters”, the calamities also showed “how policies and projects long opposed by the people like large-scale dams and foreign mining do cause death and destruction, and thus the urgent need to institute policy reforms.”

While BAYAN will continue to demand accountability from the national government and campaign for policy changes to avoid a repeat of the enormous devastation of lives, properties and livelihood due to typhoons, it also intends, through the BALSA, to bring attention to the remarkable spirit of bayanihan (“helping one another”) among Filipinos. As the group said, “For BAYAN and our member-organizations, partners and friends, the slogan ‘Serve the people’ has always been more than just a catchphrase, but a way of life.” #

Notes on the economic and social impact of Ondoy and Pepeng

Ondoy victims in Pila, Laguna receive relief goods from volunteers of the Bayan's Bayanihan Alay sa Sambayanan (BALSA)
Ondoy victims in Pila, Laguna receive relief goods from volunteers of Bayan's Bayanihan Alay sa Sambayanan or BALSA (photo from Bulatlat.com)

The twin devastation brought by typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng hit the Philippines at a time when the country is still reeling from the impact of the global financial and economic crisis. According to the latest (as of Oct 16) consolidated report of the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), the total cost of damage from the two typhoons reached P21.29 billion. The cost of damage to agriculture accounted for 64.8% of the total, and infrastructure, 35.1%. About 7.43 million were affected in the country’s 12 regions, including Metro Manila. (See Table 1)

Initial estimates from the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), meanwhile, claimed that the macroeconomic impact of the two typhoons is about 0.2% of the gross domestic product (GDP). This could be mitigated, according to NEDA, by remittances from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who would tend to send home more money because of emergencies and “will make up for the billions lost in devastating floods”.

Table 1. Estimated extent of impact of Ondoy and Pepeng, data cited as of Oct 16, 2009
Indicators Ondoy Pepeng Total
Affected no. of people (in million) 4.32 3.11 7.43
Total no. of casualties, of which: 781 654 1,435
   No. of dead 354 419 773
   No. of injured 390 184 574
   No. of missing 37 51 88
Cost of damage (in P billion), of which: 10.85 10.44 21.29
   Infrastructure 4.08 3.40 7.48
   Agriculture 6.77 7.03 13.8
   Private property n.d.c. 0.003 0.003
Total no. houses damaged, of which: 101,278 33,883 135,161
   Totally 25,259 4,040 29,299
   Partially 76,019 34,843 110,862
Regions affected, of which: III, IV-A, IV-B, V, VI, IX, X, ARMM, CAR, NCR I, II, III, IV-A, V, VI, CAR, NCR n.a.
   No. of barangays 1,902 4,585 n.a.
   No. of municipalities 155 361 n.a.
   No. of cities 30 35 n.a.
   No. of provinces 25 27 n.a.
Notes: n.d.c. – no data cited; n.a. – not applicable
Compiled using data from the NDCC Situation Report No. 31 dated Oct 16, 2009

Because of the need for additional spending for post-Ondoy and Pepeng rehabilitation and reconstruction, on top of the need to pump-prime the economy amid the global financial and economic crisis, the 2009 budget deficit could reach as much as P307.9 billion, according to the Department of Finance (DOF). There is no official figure yet on the actual amount needed for rehabilitation and reconstruction but Congress has already approved a P12-billion supplemental budget for the immediate needs of the typhoon victims.

In addition, a total of P32 billion spread over 10 years is needed to relocate more than half a million illegal settlers, including those occupying waterways in Metro Manila. Mrs. Arroyo has ordered the immediate relocation of families near waterways following the massive flooding caused by Ondoy.

Meanwhile, the Arroyo administration has also successfully raised $1 billion from the global bonds market which it said would be used for its reconstruction efforts in regions affected by Ondoy and Pepeng.

While government tends to downplay the effects of the recent typhoons on the economy, with NEDA pointing out that reconstruction will spur domestic growth, the costs are actually much higher considering the still unquantified short- and medium-term effects of losses in jobs and livelihood due to Ondoy and Pepeng, although independent think tank IBON Foundation, in an estimate, said that Ondoy alone would push at least 276,000 families in NCR, Calabarzon, and Central Luzon into “long-term poverty”.

Note also that official unemployment before the storms ravaged the country was pegged at 7.6% nationwide (National Statistics Office’s July 2009 Labor Force Survey), with the top three highest regional unemployment posted by the NCR (12.1%); Calabarzon (11.1%); and Central Luzon (9.9%) – the regions most affected by the typhoons. These regions account for 79.9% of the total number of permanently displaced workers due to economic reasons from Jan 2008 to Jun 2009 as well as 69.3% of the total number of families affected by Ondoy and Pepeng. (See Table 2

Table 2. Unemployment rate, no. of permanently displaced workers due to economic reasons, and population affected by Ondoy and Pepeng by region
Region Unemployment rate (in %, Jul 2009) No. of permanently displaced workers due to economic reasons (full-year 2008 & 1st half 2009) No. of affected families by Ondoy & Pepeng (as of Oct 16, 2009)
NCR 12.1 40,427 176,776
IV- A – Calabarzon 11.1 22,241 509,221
III – Central Luzon 9.9 9,902 382,788
I – Ilocos Region 6.7 328 234,479
Cordillera Administrative Region 4.6 1,182 54,507
VI – Western Visayas 7.4 1,360 316
X – Northern Mindanao 5.7 982 0
V – Bicol Region 5.4 347 70,389
XII – Socksargen 5.1 226 603
IV-B – Mimaropa 4.3 635 7,296
IX – Zamboanga Peninsula 4.1 295 191
ARMM 3.4   350
II – Cagayan Valley 2.8 308 105,529
National total (including other regions not affected by Ondoy & Pepeng) 7.6 90,788 1,542,445
Compiled using data from the NSO on unemployment, BLES on displaced workers, and NDCC on affected families by Ondoy & Pepeng

Beyond Ondoy and climate change, blame goes to Arroyo and Teodoro

Residents wade in floodwaters caused by Typhoon Ondoy in Cainta Rizal east of Manila September 27, 2009 (photo from Reuters)
Residents wade in floodwaters caused by Typhoon Ondoy in Cainta Rizal east of Manila September 27, 2009 (photo from Reuters)

First published by Bulatlat.com

“A President must be on the job 24/7, ready for any contingency, any crisis, anywhere, anytime… As a country in the path of typhoons …we must be as prepared as the latest technology permits to anticipate natural calamities when that is possible; to extend immediate and effective relief when it is not….The mapping of flood- and landslide-prone areas is almost complete. Early warning, forecasting and monitoring systems have been improved…”

These were the confident words of Mrs. Gloria Arroyo in her State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July 27 as she vowed that her government will continue to invest in environment even as, according to her, the country is “safer from environmental degradation”.

But on that fateful weekend of September 26-27, all these talk about disaster preparedness – and sadly along with it more than 280 lives and more than ₱5 billion in properties (and counting) – were deluged by tropical storm “Ondoy”, which brought the heaviest rains and flooding in the country since 1967.

No excuse

As expected, Malacañang quickly warded off criticisms for its obvious lack of prompt and organized response to Ondoy. In an attempt to explain the unprecedented devastation caused by Ondoy, Anthony Golez, one of the presidential spokespersons, noted that “When you try to scientifically observe the data … we will find this year and last year as very strange years, and we can only presuppose that this is due to climate change”.

Indeed, there is no disputing the fact that Ondoy in less than half a day brought rains in Metro Manila and nearby provinces a volume that was even higher than the usual rain that falls on the metropolis for the entire month of September.

But while there is no debate about climate change, which explains the abnormal typhoon patterns and intensity in recent years, accountability still falls on the Arroyo administration in particular on Mrs. Arroyo herself as President and climate change czar and her 2010 presidential bet Defense Secretary and National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) Chairperson Gilberto Teodoro Jr.

More than two years ago, Mrs. Arroyo created the Presidential Task Force on Climate Change (PTFCC) as government recognized that “being an archipelagic country and located in the typhoon belt” the country “is highly vulnerable to the adverse effects resulting from climate changes and has been experiencing unusual number of high-intensity typhoons that have wrought devastations and anguish to our people”. In December 2008, Mrs. Arroyo appointed herself as the head of this task force so she can have a “hands-on approach in crafting and implementing initiatives for environmental security”.

Among the PTFCC’s tasks is to design concrete risk reduction and mitigation measures and adaptation resources, especially to address short-term vulnerabilities, on sectors and areas where climate change will have the greatest impact. This entails among others preparedness to respond to devastation or impact of extreme weather conditions brought about by climate change such as Ondoy’s.

 At a loss

 What happened last weekend? As early as Thursday evening (September 24), the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) had already issued flood warnings and even raised storm signals by Friday (September 25). By that time, the NDCC could have already coordinated with concerned local government units (LGUs) and readied an evacuation and rescue plan. The forced release of water from the Angat and other dams during the height of rainfall last Saturday (September 26) – which aggravated the flooding – could have been properly timed with evacuation efforts, and would surely have saved many lives in affected areas.

But none of these were evident during Ondoy’s onslaught. Until Saturday noon, during the height of the heavy rains and when flooding began, the NDCC seemed to be at a loss on what to do. Numerous pleas for rescue from affected residents through the broadcast media mostly went unheeded and many were able to escape death by themselves or with the help of neighbors.

The NDCC’s excuse was that they only had 13 rubber boats at that time. Government, however, could not claim lack of funds. In 2007 alone, the Philippines received official development assistance (ODA) commitments from foreign donors worth $8.9 million to fund disaster prevention and preparedness aside from $32.28 million from 2005 to 2007 for climate change-related initiatives. These amounts are on top of what government allocates for its calamity fund. What happened to these funds?

Warnings came much earlier

Actually, the warnings came much, much earlier than Pagasa’s flood bulletin last September 24, if only government listened and responded enough. Extreme weather events and climate anomalies have already been observed in the country in the past couple of decades. The 2007 report of the United Nation’s (UN) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for instance, noted that the number of typhoons entering the Philippine area of responsibility has increased by 4.2 during the period 1990 to 2003. Increases in annual rainfall and in the number of rainy days have also been noted as well as the increasing sea level in the country’s major coastal cities, with Manila exhibiting the highest increase.

The Philippines, in fact, is among the first countries to recognize the threats of the climate crisis. As early as May 1991, the late Pres. Corazon Aquino already issued Presidential Order No. 220 that created the Inter-Agency Committee on Climate Change (IACCC) under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). The country is also among the original signatories to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) in 1994 and among the first to ratify its Kyoto Protocol in 2003.

It is important to note, however, that these landmark agreements which direct global response to climate change are hampered by fundamental issues. For instance, not only are the targets outrageously low, rich countries – which account for bulk of historical greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions with the eight richest countries comprising about 65% – can also achieve them even without actually reducing their emissions. In fact, the implementing rules of the Kyoto Protocol, as largely defined by First World countries and corporate lobby groups, could even result in a net increase in GHG emissions in the long run. Critics point out that the introduction and use of market-based mechanisms namely, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), Emissions Trading, and Joint Implementation have systematically weakened and distorted the Kyoto Protocol “from the inside”. Meanwhile, under the current Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan (MTPDP 2004-2010), the Arroyo administration has pursued environmental management and addressing the threats and impact of climate change mainly in the context of energy independence and investment promotion.

In terms of response to the impact of climate change, it has been noted in a 2005 World Bank report that “the Philippine institutional arrangements and disaster management systems tend to rely on a response or reactive approach, in contrast to a more effective proactive approach, in which disasters are avoided, by appropriate land-use planning, construction and other pre-event measures which avoid the creation of disaster-prone conditions”.  The report went on to say that “local level systems are response-driven –there is no obvious effort to initiate proactive hazard management/risk reduction coordination”.

Disastrous response

While there are crucial issues that the international community and the Philippines must address in terms of mitigation and adaptation approaches in relation to climate change, Ondoy’s devastation and its aftermath have also exposed some very alarming and more basic issues. Among them is that while the country’s handling of extremely changing weather conditions is being described as reactive, it appears that even in terms of effective disaster response the country is not also well-prepared.

This is so evident not only in the disastrous rescue efforts of the NDCC but also in the current relief drive of government. The scene of flood victims scrambling for limited relief goods, overcrowded evacuation centers lacking basic hygiene necessities, displaced families forced to spend the night on sidewalks and some in a slaughterhouse amid reports of a depleted national calamity fund, etc all paint a picture of chaos, of a government stumped and perplexed in the face of a tropical storm that experts say was not even super typhoon.

Making the Palace an evacuation center for a handful of “fortunate” flood victims who enjoy relatively better food and more “convenient” temporary shelter to generate favorable publicity for Gloria and Gibo will not do the trick. The Arroyo administration, in particular Mrs. Arroyo and Teodoro as the top officials dealing with climate change and disaster response, must be held accountable for the hundreds of deaths and unspeakable suffering that the victims of Ondoy currently endure. They could not blame Ondoy or climate change – these are realities that the country must now face – but the question is are we dealing with them effectively and responsibly?