Last February 08, 2014, we— accompanied by our host NGO, Alyansa Tigil Mina— had gone to Zambales to do a day’s worth of fieldwork. While an objective was to gather information in order to compose a written report (of course), another rational for the activity was for us students to witness first-hand how a community can get affected when nearby mining operations go awry.
My group (as we were composed of two groups) were for Sta. Cruz, Zambales. Sta. Cruz is a municipal composed of 25 barangays with Luisito E. Marty as its current mayor. It is an urban-rural community that primarily earns by means of agriculture, fishing, as well as by the remittances from its OFW’s. At first glance, the place seems like an ordinary and relaxed community in the province, developing at a steady pace with rice fields over areas of land and a number of rivers flowing. Stay there a bit longer and let the first impressions pass, one will notice that the rivers are actually heavily silted with hues of rusty red— chromite deposits— at their banks; the rice fields, although quite numerous at a glance, actually having considerable portion of them untillable due to similar deposits that have silted the rivers. Of course, there’s the dust— and it’s practically everywhere in Sta. Cruz. According to Josephine Astadan, a local leader of the community, this dust has been the cause of the increase in the incidence of respiratory ailments within the community. Aside from that, you have river completely entombed in silt, relinquishing the local fishermen of their 200 hectare fishing grounds (as well as a means to get themselves and their families breakfast, lunch, and dinner); you’d bet, agriculture takes a hit too, thus loss of livelihood across the board; you also have increased incidence of flood due to deforestation and damage to the river systems; whole barangays displaced of their land due to asset seizing; and, what have you, the local government having a slice of the mining cake from under the tables.
Of course, details notwithstanding, Sta. Cruz is an archetypical scenario of what happens to a number of communities with mining ventures around their premises. As one can see, the effects— the negative externalities— are indeed of magnitude and coverage throughout an affected community. What one gets is a chain of misfortune onto other industries and onto other lives at the expense of one industry, and that would naturally lead on to wonder how much this industry, how much mining was worth it, considering the sometimes irreparable damage caused.
This simply further emphasizes the dire need to look into these issues, for they aren’t simple ones. On one hand, you have the potential value in the resources from mining; on the other, there is the risk of damage onto a considerable area proximate to operations, which have value in their own rights. This would indeed require the continuous dialogue among the involved parties. Naturally, an answer won’t pop up overnight.