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Mon, Feb 06, 2006 - Page 12 News List

Bishops commence anti-mining crusade in the Philippines


An anti-mining crusade by Roman Catholic bishops has rekindled debate over how best to lift millions of Filipinos out of poverty by using the resources buried beneath their feet.

In issuing a rejection of the resources industry last month, the country's dominant religion called on the government to cancel all concessions and deny all applications, saying mining "destroys life" and causes "evil effects".

Few expect President Gloria Arroyo to make such an abrupt about-face but the comments by the politically influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines may chill the investment climate.

Obeying the edict "will essentially signal to all investors, local and foreign, not just in the mining industry, that making an investment in the Philippines is a bad one," warned Benjamin Philip Romualdez, head of the country's Chamber of Mines.

He said this would displace two million industry workers and steal food from the mouths of 10 million Filipinos.

"The bishops' statement on mining is absurd," said Manila-based business consultant Peter Wallace. "It sends all the wrong signals to investors. Those who were sitting on the fence will not be rushing in now."

The Philippines says it has the fifth richest natural endowment of mineral resources -- third in gold, fourth in copper, fifth in nickel, and sixth in chromite deposits -- with a combined value of at least US$90 billion.

Just 1.4 percent of the nine million hectares -- a third of Philippine territory -- identified as potentially rich in mineral deposits is covered by mining rights, said Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Michael Defensor.

Arroyo said in 2004 that with China's massive demand for mineral products, mining had the potential to improve lives in the countryside that hosts the greatest number of the 40 percent of Filipinos who live on less than US$2 a day.

Reviving the moribund industry would lead to a "significant boost in jobs and productivity," she said.

Bishop Antonio Ledesma, vice president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, insists that the church is also deeply concerned about employment.

But the Catholic bishops say mining has failed to raise living standards.

"The promised economic benefits of mining by these transnational corporations are outweighed by the dislocation of communities especially among our indigenous brothers and sisters, the risks to health and livelihood and massive environmental damage," a pastoral letter read.

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