Social and Economic Reforms

Photo from Reuters

By Glenis Balangue

A day before Earth Day, technology giant Apple made a bold claim. Blamed time and again for its role in sustaining the highly destructive mining industry, Apple said it plans to stop using minerals and metals for its famed iPhones and Macs. In its 2017 Environmental Responsibility Report, Apple said that to stop mining the Earth, the firm is looking at just using recycled materials from its older products.

There’s only one problem. Apple admits it still does not know how to go about it. The statement is thus nothing more than a feel-good PR from a global firm that has a controversial supply chain – from blacklisted military-controlled mining sites in Myanmar to sweatshops in China – just in time for Earth Day.

While some global giants that profit from mining resort to publicity stunt, dealing with the awful ill effects to the people and environment of a massive industry that digs up lands and forests for precious minerals, and dumps toxic wastes, is an urgent issue for many local communities.

This is the story of mining communities researched by IBON in the towns of Sipalay in Negros Occidental, Sta. Cruz in Zambales, Macarthur in Leyte, and Kasibu in Nueva Vizcaya.

Forests, farmlands destroyed

 Barangay San Jose in Sipalay City in Negros Occidental has been dubbed as a mining town because it hosts one of the biggest mining operations, mainly copper, in the country since the 1950s. The barangay stands as a testament to the irreversible environmental damage that wanton mining brings. Hectares of productive farmlands were lost when these were turned into the mine tailings pond of the Maricalum Mining Corp. The firm had three tailings dam failures from1982-1996 that displaced more than a thousand farmers and fisherfolk. Some of them eventually came back and tried to eke out a living through swidden (kaingin) farming on the mountainside and charcoal making. Many also migrated to urban areas to find work as domestic help or as construction workers.

In Sta. Cruz, Zambales, some 20 hectares of farmlands in Barangay Lomboy were entirely covered in red mud from nickel mining operations at the height of Typhoon Labuyo in August 2013. Residents also reported that 30 more farm lots in other barangays were affected by siltation from mining operations in the mountains. But even during non-typhoon season, the rice fields are regularly covered with a layer of red silt. In Barangay Bolitoc, around 10 hectares of farms, fishponds and saltponds were converted into a stockpile of the mining companies.

Some 500 hectares of land planted with citrus trees in Barangay Didipio, Kasibu in Nueva Vizcaya were destroyed as Australian mining giant OceanaGold Philippines built its open pit gold mine. Farms suffer from lack of water for irrigation. More than 30 hectares of farmland are affected by the declining water level of the Surong-Camgat river system while around five hectares have totally dried up. Harvest has also gone down.

In Barangay Pongon in Macarthur, Leyte, Chinese firm Nicua Corporation mined some 70 hectares previously planted to rice, aside from another nine hectares in two other villages. Due to the loss of the nutrient-rich topsoil, waterlogging, as well as oil and fuel spills on the rice farms, affected crops did not grow well in the areas near the mining sites.

Aside from destroying farmlands, mining firms also denude forests to make way for their operations. In Sta. Cruz, for instance, the mountains are now bare from the timber cutting of mining companies. Bamboo thickets, a source of bamboo shoots sold for additional income or used for food, are covered in reddish mud. In Didipio as well as Sta. Cruz, mining companies are prohibiting the locals from gathering firewood, food, medicines, and other forest-based products from the forests within their concession areas.

Water resources poisoned

Meanwhile, bodies of water have compromised fishery-based livelihood and residents’ access to clean and safe water such as in Barangay San Jose in Sipalay. Residents there could no longer catch tilapia from streams near their farms and houses due to contamination that has already resulted in several cases of fishkill. Incidents of fishkills as a result of contamination from magnetite mining were also reported in Macarthur, Leyte. In Barangay Didipio, locals no longer catch any fish when they use to get 10 to 20 kilograms of fish everyday. Fishing used to provide extra income and food for these communities.

Communities blame mining operations for the changes in the bodies of water in their town. Those living near the riverbanks have observed that the river has become shallower due to heavy siltation from soil, which flows downstream especially during the rainy season. Those living in the coastal areas are not free from siltation either. Fisher folk who live along the coastline of Barangay Pagatpat in Sta. Cruz, for example, suffer from a thick layer of reddish mud that has settled in the coral reef. Heavy siltation destroys the areas where fish lay eggs and hatch.

People’s health harmed

 Aside from water and soil pollution and contamination, air pollution is also a major concern for mining-affected communities. In Barangay San Jose, a high percentage of households reported upper respiratory illnesses or symptoms such as colds and coughs, which may have been aggravated by dust from the mining’s waste dump. This may also be the result of their livelihood, charcoal-making, which entails workers to work day and night while being exposed to soot, fumes and heat for several days.

In Sta. Cruz, Zambales, dust from the hauling trucks has also posed a big health problem to residents located close to the roads that mining companies use and those residing near the stockpiles. Those who live close to the road inhale dusts from the hauling trucks. People who wade or bathe in the silted rivers and streams experience rashes and itchiness.

Urgent reforms

 These are some of the pressing environmental, economic and health issues that communities with large-scale mining operations face. The country does not have to wait for Apple to find a way on how to recycle for its iPhone to undertake urgent reforms that will protect the communities and will stop further damage from the mining of the country’s mineral resources.

President Duterte’s appointment of staunch anti-mining advocate Gina Lopez as Environment Secretary has been a positive development overall. But her efforts to ban destructive mining have been relentlessly countered by a strong pro-mining lobby, with apparent backing from Cabinet officials with ties to the controversial industry.

Despite this challenge, Duterte’s stated commitment to regulate mining, a strong Environment chief, plus an ongoing peace talks with revolutionary groups that include among others a deal, i.e. Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) that intend to address a host of key social and economic issues including mining, all give an extraordinary opportunity to push for meaningful policy reforms.

The industry needs to be developed it within the framework of national industrialization and anchored on the principles of social justice, respect for people’s rights and welfare, environmental conservation and defense of national sovereignty and patrimony.

There is a necessity for the government to function as a genuine regulatory body for mining operations to protect the environment and to ensure proper compensation for damages. The government has a key role in drawing up a national industrialization program wherein mineral resources are processed in the country and become the raw materials for the building of strategic domestic industries such as steel and petrochemicals.

The prohibition of mining operations in critical areas such as small island ecosystem, coastal, primary forests and watersheds should also be ensured. Likewise, rules that govern the proper disposition of mine waste and its implementation should be included. There should be a practice of democratic consultation among the communities and stakeholders in all mining activities to be undertaken. ###

From Bicol Today

​As the debate on contractualization continues towards Labor Day,​ research group IBON stated that the Department of Labor and Employment’s (DOLE)’s Department Order (DO) 174 is only an affirmation of the anti-worker practice of contractualization. Despite workers’ demand and President Duterte’s marching order to end all forms of contractualization, the DOLE’s promotion of the “win-win solution” proposed by the Employers’ Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP), which simply aims to regulate contractualization, will not stop violations of workers’ rights.

DO 174 lists prohibitions of various employers’ schemes that undermine workers’ right to security of tenure. These include farming out work to a “cabo” or non-regular proxy, contracting through agencies, repeating short-term hiring, and requiring workers to sign labor rights waiver documents. DO 174 also supposedly stresses on workers’ right to labor standards, self -organization, collective bargaining, and security of tenure thereby prohibiting labor only-contracting.

The new DO, however, simply updates the implementation of Article 106 of the Labor Code and rehashes most of the provisions stipulated in DO 18-A of 2011 which both merely seek to regulate contractualization. The amendments merely aim to increase contractors’ registration fee from Php25,000 to Php100,000; shorten the validity of the certificate of registration of contractors and subcontractors from three to two years; and increase substantial capital (needed capitalization) from Php3 million to Php5 million.

The DO also purportedly intends to ensure the regularization of workers upon hiring by third-party manpower agencies and granting them the same rights and benefits as regular employees, including the right to unionize. But rather than repealing existing laws on contracting and subcontracting, the DOLE ordered the strict implementation of these laws thereby affirming the practice of contractualizaton. To ensure this, it will create additional plantilla positions to fortify the existing pool of Labor Laws Compliance Officers, create regional inspection teams and review the enforcement framework of labor law standards.

IBON said that these measures only legitimize the removal of employer-employee relationship between outsourced employees and principal companies. The order absolves principal companies from directly giving the workers their due and leaves the task of respecting labor rights to the agencies. Workers’ rights to just wages and earned benefits and to form unions, negotiate for better work conditions, and to strike are also removed, observed IBON.

Workers seek an end to the prevalence of jobs that are insecure, low-paying, and lacking in benefits, through which capitalists reap profit. According to IBON, however, latest available data from June 2014 shows that one of three (34.5%) rank and file workers are non-regular. IBON also estimates that 63% or 24.4 million Filipinos are non-regular, agency-hired, informal sector or unpaid family workers who are in low-paying and insecure work with poor or no benefits as of 2016. This the new DO as well as the law that it extends do not address, IBON noted. The group underscored the need for more comprehensive economic reforms to end not only contractualization but the country’s cheap labor and anti-union policy that attract investors to do business at the expense of workers and their rights.

Photo by Bulatlat

IBON today urged the Duterte administration to ensure the distribution of the Hacienda Luisita and provide support services to farmers to show its resolve in firming up free land distribution as the basic principle of genuine agrarian reform during the last round of peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). The group said that effectively dismantling the Hacienda Luisita land monopoly should be a top priority and could be implemented even prior to the signing of a Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER), one of the key agreements being negotiated by the government and the NDFP as they seek to end almost five decades of armed conflict mainly caused by widespread rural landlessness.


The group stressed that such urgency is justified considering the long delay in and attempts under the previous Aquino administration to undermine the distribution of Hacienda Luisita, which have unjustly deprived its tillers of effective control over the vast sugarcane estate even after the Supreme Court (SC) has already ruled in their favor. IBON cited the controversial “tambiolo” (raffle) system that resulted in the displacement of long-time tillers in Hacienda Luisita from the land distribution ordered by the SC in 2012 and the disqualification of farmers as beneficiaries of land distribution for refusing to sign the contract on amortization. The group also pointed out that portions of Hacienda Luisita have been exempted from land acquisition and distribution in favor of the Cojuangco family that has controlled the estate for decades even when these have not been really developed for their stated industrial use.


The problematic land reform program of past administrations and the need for a sustained state support for the beneficiaries are further highlighted by reports being verified by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) that as much as 95% of the 6,212 farmer beneficiaries in Hacienda Luisita have leased their lands for Php7,000 to 10,000 a year while settling for meager wages, IBON said.


Breaking up large landholdings for free distribution to farmers and providing sufficient and reliable support services to ensure that they keep and make the lands productive is seen as among the necessary first steps towards achieving peace. IBON pointed out that the 6,453-hectare Hacienda Luisita has become the symbol of peasant landlessness and of monopoly control by powerful landlords over land and resources in the country.


IBON also reminded President Duterte that land reform and agricultural support services are among his campaign promises. Fulfilling this will not just address the urgent needs of Filipino farmers but could also boost the CASER discussion and overall peace negotiations with the NDFP.


The group added that since there is already the SC decision as well as ongoing efforts by the DAR to reverse anti-farmer policies previously carried out in the sugarcane estate, the actual transfer of effective control over the Hacienda Luisita to the farmers could be already implemented with strong support from the President even as the CASER has not been finalized yet. But IBON stressed that finalizing a CASER and its provisions for a genuine agrarian reform and rural development program is important to ensure that the distribution of Hacienda Luisita and other large landholdings in the country will be sustained and will truly benefit the farmers. ###



From Top5

Concrete steps to social and economic reforms become ever more urgent amid raging, widespread landlessness, poverty, joblessness and inequality. It is free land distribution, a strong domestic industry and expanded social services that will certainly benefit millions of Filipinos.

Poor Farmersa


Research group IBON today said that the “firmed up” agreement of government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) on distribution of land for free as the basic principle of genuine agrarian reform is a positive step towards the forging of a Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) and ending the decades-old civil war in the countryside that is mainly fueled by landlessness.

In the Joint Statement released today by the NDFP and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) as they closed their fourth round of formal peace talks in Noordwijk aan Zee, The Netherlands, both parties also agreed to accelerate the process of concluding a CASER.

IBON said that the two sides concurring on free land distribution as the basic principle of genuine agrarian reform is encouraging because it directly goes to the crux of the armed conflict. The group added that agrarian reform and rural development, together with national industrialization and economic development, is the foundation of a CASER that the GRP and NDFP panels are trying to hammer out through the peace talks.

Land amortization is one of the major problems that confront most agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) under government’s flawed land distribution program, IBON stressed. Citing data from the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP), the research group pointed out that 75% of ARBs are not able to pay land amortization and only 9.7% are already fully-paid.

IBON added that the issue of land amortization is aggravated by government’s continuing failure to actually distribute lands to the farmers. Based on data from the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), the land acquisition and distribution (LAD) balance under government’s land reform program is pegged at 621,085 hectares (has.) of which 93% are private agricultural lands, as of January 2016.

This as many large haciendas and other land monopolies of powerful landlords and big oligarchs remain intact. In an earlier statement, the group said that 80% of agricultural lands are controlled by just one third of all landowners.

IBON urged the GRP and NDFP to build on the momentum of the fourth round of peace talks to finalize a CASER that will pave the way for the implementation of free land distribution under a genuine agrarian reform and rural development program. ###

From Rice Matters

Research group IBON welcomed the resumption of talks between the National Democratic Front (NDFP) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP), now on its fourth round. Finalizing a key agreement on social and economic reforms to address poverty is a big step towards peace, said the group.

IBON stressed that poverty, which underlies the armed conflict, has been worsened by the neoliberal economic framework that has kept the Philippine economy backward and enriched only a few. This must be urgently corrected through real reforms based on social justice.

The NDFP and the Duterte government negotiating panels had successfully concluded the third round of negotiations in January 2017, with an exchange of drafts for a comprehensive agreement on social and economic reforms (CASER).

During the fourth round of talks from April 2-6, the panels will attempt to reach significant agreements on CASER, which both sides agree is vital to address the underdevelopment that creates the conditions for armed conflict. Both parties have agreed that discussions will cover agrarian reform and rural development, national industrialization and foreign economic and trade relations, among others.

IBON said that the government’s 10+0 Economic Agenda and Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2017-2022 repeat the neoliberal errors of past administrations and economic plans. Such policies have worsened the plight of the Filipino people causing widespread landlessness, unprecedented jobs crisis, chronic poverty and inequality that feed social unrest and conflict.

The group noted, for instance, that seven out of 10 poor Filipinos are in the rural areas where landlessness is prevalent due to land monopoly. The group said that 80% of agricultural lands are controlled by just one third of all landowners. Landlessness and rural poverty can be resolved through free land distribution accompanied by reliable and comprehensive support services. IBON pointed out that the experience of developed countries like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan proves that free land distribution to tillers is viable.

IBON added that the jobs crisis and poor quality of work is another urgent matter that can be addressed through real social and economic reforms.  Minimum wage is less than half of the cost of living across the country, while around six of 10 workers are in low-paying, insecure jobs. IBON also said that aside from higher and decent wages, reforms that will truly develop domestic key industries would help create long-term quality jobs and reverse the jobs crisis.

The country’s economic development depends on building Filipino industry and changing the terms of foreign trade and investment relations, thus discussions on these are particularly significant, said IBON. The markedly growing protectionism in the US, Europe and other advanced capitalist powers underscores the flaw in over-reliance on global markets. The group asserted that it has become even more urgent to develop the national economy in a sovereign and independent manner that is not dictated by foreign capital, governments, and international agencies.

IBON said that these are much-needed social and economic reforms to build the foundations of a just and lasting peace. The peace talks and the CASER in particular is a chance for the government to begin reorienting economic policy to uphold real national development and the welfare of the majority of the Filipino people. Making substantial progress on negotiating an agreement on these reforms would help create momentum for and sustain other agreements being negotiated by both sides, including the proposed bilateral ceasefire. ###

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