By Jarius Bondoc/The Philippine Star – It’s not only Bajo de Masinloc (Panatag/Scarborough Shoal) that the Chinese have occupied. They also have grabbed a slice of mainland Zambales, 108 kilometers east. There Chinese miners rule, stealing nickel ore the same way they poach fish in the shoal. Bribed local officials abet them like modern-day Makapili collaborators.
In the West Philippine Sea-side Sta. Cruz municipality, Zambales, operate three Chinese conglomerates: Jiangxi Rare Earth & Metals Tungsten Group, Wei-Wei Group, and Nihao Mineral Resources Inc. Through Filipino dummies they have set up five supposed “minahang bayan (small-scale mines).” The five load ore and unload equipment in one common pier, betraying the fact that they actually are one.
The five machinate under cover of the People’s Small-Scale Mining Act of 1991. Such wee mines are for subsistence quarrymen who use only brawn, mini-crushers, hand picks, and shovels. Anything but puny, the five Chinese fronts use sophisticated excavators, drills, crushers, and explosives. With the heavy ordnance, they level mountains for tens of thousands of tons of nickel ore a day. (A small-scale mine is limited to only 50,000 tons in its lifetime.)
Residents of Sta. Cruz cry that the Chinese mines have denuded the forest watersheds, and poisoned farmlands, rivers, sea, and air. Townsfolk of adjacent Masinloc, Zambales, and Infanta, Pangasinan, also suffer. Muddied coastal waters drive small fishermen farther out to sea. But in the vicinity of Bajo de Masinloc, Chinese warships shell them back to shore.
The Philippines is now China’s main source of nickel. The five Chinese mines in Sta. Cruz contribute a sizeable portion. Although no exact figures can be obtained – small-scale mines operate under local government licenses, beyond the scope of the Mines & Geosciences Bureau – locals observe at the common wharf the departure of four ore-laden Chinese bulk carriers per week. China processes the nickel into hi-tech weapons and surveillance systems – to sabotage the Philippine military and economy into submission.
The Sta. Cruz-Masinloc-Infanta highway is called the “dump truck capital of the Philippines.” Thousands of trucks’ tailpipe emissions and ore-load dust pollute the air to alarming levels. Field monitors of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources reported on Nov. 15, 16, and 27, 2012, suspended particulates of 208, 727, and 824 micrograms per cubic meter, respectively, on the highway. Maximum tolerable is 90.
So in the barrios of Sta. Cruz, residents suffer acute respiratory infections – their top cause of morbidity. From 2001 to 2011, rural health workers noted an increasing incidence of 4,500 to 8,500 new cases per 100,000-population per year. Yet the Chinese mines have not improved local household incomes. (The entire mining industry has the highest poverty incidence.)
Health and environment ruin are accompanied by economic and political decay. By disguising as small-scale mines, the five Chinese thieves are able to skirt the stringent rules on the big ones. Provincial business permits can be obtained within days for as low as P10,000, and environmental clearances for P15,000, unlike the years-long wait for biggies to be scrutinized. Because virtually unregulated, the five Chinese mines pay no taxes, duties, fees, or royalties – for at least the sickened townsfolk’s medical expenses. Provincial officials justify their localized exactions by pointing out that local governments do not get shares of central government revenues from big miners. (In 2011 the DENR reported that three million tons of Philippine mineral ores that were processed in China were unaccounted for by trade and Customs authorities.)
The mayors of Sta. Cruz, Masinloc, and Infanta profess to oppose the Chinese mines. That the latter continue to operate raises suspicion that the provincial capitols of Zambales and Pangasinan go over the mayors’ heads and deal directly with pliant barangay officials. Either that or somebody’s lying. The mayor of Infanta was murdered last December.
Bribery stories taint the Chinese mines. How they get away with their destructive ways is a mystery. The Wei-Wei Group entered Botolan, Zambales, in 2005 via a rushed approval during the Arroyo tenure. It came right after then-President Gloria Arroyo allowed China illegally to explore Philippine waters, under a secret, treasonous Joint Seismic Marine Understanding. Wei-Wei later barged into Sta. Cruz-Masinloc-Infanta.
The Jiangxi Group joined in partnership with a Nihao Minerals subsidiary. Officers of Nihao and affiliate Geograce Resources Inc. were involved in the illegal grant to ZTE International Corp. in 2005 of mining rights in the gold rush area of Mount Diwalwal, Compostela Valley.
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Worldwide on Wednesday, July 24, there will be demonstrations in front of Chinese embassies to protest the bully incursions in Philippine waters. In Manila, the Global Protest Action will be held 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Chinese embassy on Roxas Boulevard.
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Eagerly awaited is the Supreme Court ruling for or against the Mining Act of 1995. This is on the separate petitions to declare unconstitutional the provisos on the mineral production sharing agreements and financial-technical assistance agreements. Too, to void all existing MPSAs and FTAAs signed by the government.
The Court twice had declared the law unconstitutional, then reversed itself and upheld the provisions in 2006. Miners are confident of a new ruling in their favor, because of the government’s need to entice job-creating investments, mostly from abroad. Environmentalists and economic nationalists foresee otherwise, citing public awareness of the meager state revenues from the extraction of minerals. A congressman aligned with the latter has said, however, that they face an uphill battle because their side would require the Court to flip-flop yet once more.
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