Matrix of the Philippine Mining Industry

By: Tilo Kuizon

The mining industry is one of the biggest industries in the world to date. In every part of the world where there are minerals, mining companies in countries such as Canada, United States, Australia, Japan, Norway and many parts of  Europe compete to exploit the resources which they can gain profit from. Consequently, this has led to the horrendous destruction of the Earth’s biosphere. Life support systems such as water, forests and wildlife are destroyed everyday to serve the mining companies’ profit motive.

In addition, local people’s livelihood systems are eradicated in the process. Farmers, fisherfolks and indigenous people end up being harassed, bribed with money and other tactical incentives, displaced and inevitably, some people, get killed if they militantly oppose a mining operation in their region.

Mining is a vital industry of a techno-industrial society. Through centuries, people from different corners of the globe mined for different kinds of minerals which they can use in daily lives. However, the advent of capitalism has made the industry more powerful and tyrannical. In just a few hundred years, the mining industry has put tragedy to various corners of the globe. They have destroyed the planet’s biosphere including wildlife, farmers, fishermen, and indigenous people and have made the last remaining forests, rivers and oceans of the world, which have existed for millions of years, vanish.


Extraction started way back before Magellan and his crew set foot in the archipelago.  It is believed that mining started around 1000 BC.  Natives mined gold, silver, copper, and iron for their ornaments, dishes, tooth plating, dagger handles and other domestic utensils.  A display of more than 1,000 gold ornaments were previously recovered suggesting that the early inhabitants were bedecked with gold, pearls, agate, colored stones of all sorts, etc., from head to foot (Zafra, 2008).  The natives were very knowledgeable with gold – from gold smithing to craftsmanship.  The intricate designs of the adornments showed similarities of craftsmanship to neighboring countries – Vietnam and Indonesia. Legeza’s “Tantric elements in pre-Hispanic Philippines Gold Art” (1988) even suggest that there were gold jewelries of Philippine origin found in Ancient Egypt.  The pre-colonial tribes were very active in international trade; they had supreme navigational skills using the Pacific Ocean as their natural trade route.  They were tied up with long range barters all cross Asia and with them are masterpieces like intricately crafted gold jewelries.

One of the many reasons why the Philippines was a major target of Colonial powers in the 15th century (Spanish, later Americans and Japanese), is because of its affluence in minerals like Gold, Copper, Nickel, Silver, Iron and many others.  Areas such as Baguio, Masbate, Surigao and Masara were the regions that were highly producing gold.  It was of course, small scale extraction and intents were community centered. It was the Spanish though, who opened the first commercial mines in Benguet (Vidal, 2005).  Though they had centuries of war against natives of many islands, the Spaniards were not able to convince the Igorots of Cordillera to open up a large scale mining.  It was the Americans who laid the groundwork of large scale mining in Baguio which was to be known as the Benguet Mining Corporation.

Through centuries, many ‘mining hotspots’ were issued by the Philippine government as ‘reserved areas’ for future exploitation.  The industry boomed in the 1960’s to 1970’s when the global prices of gold and copper peaked.  By the 1980’s, mining for copper and other minerals continued but later slowed down in 1988-89 as the world demand for copper decreased. The Aquino regime eyed to further revive the industry but failed because of strong community resistance and international pressure against harum-scarum companies such as Lepanto Consolidated Mining in Benguet and Marcopper mine tailings – one of the largest mining disasters in the world to date.  Later at that time, other mining operations were shut down due to law violations. By early 1990’s, the demand for gold increased and so the Philippine government wanted to make the mining Industry one of the flagship of Philippine economy. They lobbied a resolution to revitalize the mining industry.  And in 1995, despite receiving strong ci

vil groups’ resistance, Republic Act 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 came about – a law which basically puts all the power over land, resources and life to Corporations. Since then, the Philippines had its arms wide open to Giant Mining corporations all over the world.


The Philippine archipelago is a mountainous area having approximately 30 million hectares of land. It has 7,107 islands with three major regions – Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. Geologically, the Philippines is part of the Circum-Pacific Belt of Fire wherein Mineral resources are exceptionally abundant. It is considered as the fifth most mineralized country (Vidal, 2005), the third largest global gold reserves and fourth in copper (Kept in the Dark, 2008). These minerals are housed in rich biodiversity forests and ancestral lands of Indigenous peoples.

The terrains of the islands are 65% mountainous with narrow coastal lowlands reaching 17,500 kilometers if laid end to end. The islands were formed by isolated fragments that have long complex geological histories dating back 30-50 million years (C.I., Overview section, para 2.). Having 2 main distinct seasons – dry season and rainy season, the country is part of the ‘typhoon belt’ receiving about 19-22 tropical cyclones or typhoons every year.

The Philippines is also considered to be one of the world’s biological hotspots. Coastal marine ecosystems comprise 464 species of hard corals and 50 species of soft corals. However, only 5% of those numbers is in good condition.  With regards to terrestrial flora and fauna, the Philippines include one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems.  Below are quick facts about the wildlife of the Philippines, (Rebuta, 2010):

114 species found in the Philippines
78 species are endemic (found only in the Philippines)
13 species are endangered

668 species found in the Philippines
181 species are endemic (found only in the Philippines)
86 species are endangered


938 species found in the Philippines
406 species are endemic (found only in the Philippines)
5 species are endangered


250 species found in the Philippines
139 species are endemic (found only in the Philippines)
2 species are endangered

Freshwater Fish
296 species found in the Philippines
109 species are endemic (found only in the Philippines)
5 species are endangered

218 species found in the Philippines
112 species are endemic (found only in the Philippines)
49 species are endangered


8481 species found in the Philippines
6371 species are endemic (found only in the Phils)
320 species are endangered

297 species found in the Philippines
168 species are endemic (found only in the Phils.)
9 species are endangered


Philippines is situated in Southeast Asia between the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean, above East Malaysia and right next to Vietnam. It is the second largest archipelago after Indonesia.  Its landmass is about 30 million hectares with approximately 9 million hectares potential for extractionPopulation at the present (2011) is about 93 million with an annual growth of about 2% per year.  42% of that number is living below $2 a day, 10-100 thousand are trafficked annually, 500,000 are OFW’s or Overseas Filipino workers (a huge number of the population to a great extent is dependent on money sent by OFW’s), with booming industries in the Business process outsourcing (call centers and telecommuting jobs), tourism, and minerals.

The Philippines is the 4th most corrupt country in Southeast Asia and 134th in the world.  Every year, a huge influx of families from rural areas migrate to urban centers in search of a better life which more often than not, turns out to be hell – desperately unable to meet the minimum necessities of life – food, shelter, education, livelihood, security and proper medicine.  Basic government services do not reach to the outskirts of metropolis; especially in very remote regions like uplands or secluded islands.  Added to that, the legacy of dynasties and the medieval system of clans still reigns in the body politic.  In almost every corner of the archipelago, handful wealthy families dominate the political arena of their provinces from top to bottom offices.  There are more than 150 families that eclipse the entire being of the Philippines(Retrieved from:

Here’s the list:

These are more or less the people responsible for the intrusion of corporate projects all over the archipelago and the basis why corporate projects are taking off so well.  Moreover, here’s a glance showing the poverty incidence in human development index of the Philippines (1988-2009):

The southern part of the Philippines is drenched with long standing history of violence and conflict.  Malang (2010, p.8) states that the conflict in west and south Mindanao is Southeast Asia’s longest running internal conflict.  This is mainly due to the opposition of conservative elements in the majority population (in and outside government), latent prejudice of the majority, and lack of nuanced understanding of the conflict (Malang, 2010).  All the aforementioned social enigmas throw in distinct blows against the people, culture and nature of the Philippines, making it possible for corporate projects to slip in and exploit the wonders of the archipelago.


As a neo-colonized country and a member of the World Trade Organization with a population of 32.9 % living below poverty level (living below $ 2 per day), the Philippine Government was coerced to adhere to neoliberal policies as part of its ‘structural adjustment’. That just simply means they were pushed to respond accordingly to the demands of the IMF-WB which was to create a more favorable investment climate especially for foreign companies.  Its adherence to greedy financial institutions has been a disaster for both the rural people (Indigenous communities, farmers and fishermen) and the environment (watersheds, farmlands, rainforests, oceans).  More than 100 upland tribal groups excluding fisherfolks and farmers in the Philippines were radically affected by destructive logging and mining operations from 1960-1980.

Despite the resistance and support from outside groups, tribal people, farmers and fisherfolks are most likely to leave their land, culture and resources; forced to adapt a new way of life (commercialized) and get displaced in the slums of cities.

At the present, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau reports that there are 27 Major Large Scale mining operations, 10 Medium-Scale Nickel Mines, more than 1,818 pending mining applications and more than 2000 Non-metallic small scale mining operations all throughout the Archipelago. The destruction of rainforests, jeopardy on watershed security, disregarding people’s rights to self-determination and self-sufficiency, perpetual corrupt political system, displacement of Indigenous communities and farming societies, and the coercion to fit in with the corporate culture definitely needs have its end.


People all over the archipelago are organizing themselves and working with outside groups to resist corporate tyranny and bring justice. However, throughout the years, the approach of working together with communities has been dominated by Leftist groups and is mostly hierarchical in many terms. It has been the same traditional pattern – NGO’s enter a community, bring in new ideas, give support (depending on what ‘specialty’ the NGO might have) and try to let the people follow the Leftist brand of socio-political and economic solution.

Furthermore, the Philippine political spectrum is predominantly composed of two blocks (Akbayan and Bayan Muna – both are Communist parties) with hundreds of umbrella organizations and people’s movement. All throughout the country, these groups have been working on anti-mining issues, apart from the many, and have been the partner of most communities who are against mining. The dilemma however is, people are left with little or no decision making power as these groups are most likely to mediate and in many occasions, dictate what direction should they go to.

Another thing is, most of the anti-mining communities are ‘locally bounded’ in terms of struggle and solidarity. Not much of simultaneous international resistance are made in the history of mining resistance in the Philippines and so resistant communities feel ‘their case is isolated and their struggle against corporations, estranged’. That further suggests that they are less likely to see resistance outside Philippines and, have other options to strengthen their campaign against the corporations.  Below are the current extraction activities in the Philippines.  Spots represent their actual location, type of mined mineral, and the corporations behind them.


It is always important to take into account all things involved (in the issue of mining and rural commercialization projects) in their respective domains.  Addressing the interior lives of individuals, mining brings forth devastating psychological impacts to individuals in host communities and working groups.  A handful of people testified that they are ruined to see the tensions inside their family and community.  Also, they feel hopelessness in the situation simply because they are in many ways, immobilized by the circumstance.  Added to that, people detest corporations and feel a high level of insecurity with regards to their family’s future.  Others fear potential life threats while some family’s grief intemperately to their assassinated family member.  While executives of mining corporations work their way to career growth, personal profits, and impressive performance in their company, individuals in host communities feel lambasted.

On another end, mining advances unhealthy environments posing diseases to individuals in host communities.  In the 1990’s, the Marcopper caused deaths amongst children in its host community and skin diseases, digestive discomforts, dementia and cancer to a number of individuals.   Excluded to that are potential impacts of toxic chemicals to people like respiratory problems and other unforeseen illnesses whilst corporate executives of mining firms enjoy massive wealth gain and more luxury and comforts of life.

On the collective interior, the occupation of a mining company in its host community causes intra-familial, intra-community and inter-community conflict between the pro and anti mining advocates.  The eviction of farms, fishing and hunting grounds bring in more intricacy to the multiplex.  Host communities are in most cases heavily dependent on the resources of their natural surroundings and would most likely lose their livelihood once those resources are taken away from them.  Simultaneously, mining companies basks in the radiance of their company’s growth- meet their profit margins and get more competitive in the global mineral market whilst host communities endure vicious life conditions.

Turning to ecosystemic impacts, mining puts forth the destruction of forests which took thousands of years to get there.  It advances wildlife eradication – effacing more and more endemic species in island ecosystems, evicting more resident and migratory species in mainland ecosystems and coral reef demolition in oceans; watershed contamination – most mining concessions in the Philippines hit watershed areas where demand for water exceeds supply (Marzan,, 2010); soil toxification – percolation of toxic chemicals in the soil will dramatically affect the entire biota; and food security threat to the society at large – the Philippine economy is heavily dependent on farmers and fisherfolks (producers) for food.  Whilst corporate projects ravage the ecosystem, mining companies relish their profits from the operation, enjoy good working relations with the Philippine government, and savor from their improved company track record.


The issue of mining (and huge corporate projects in general) in the Philippines is highly intricate.  Factors and people involved like the transnational mining companies, hosts communities, social justice groups and government branches are entangled in one huge fabric.  Each and every factor and actor plays a significant role in the whole stage play.  On one end, there’s a shadowy influence and pressure from global financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank (WB), Asian Development Bank (ADB), and International organizations which the Philippines is a member of like Group of 77 at the United Nations (G77), Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), etc., to fine tune the laws of the Philippines in favor of foreign companies.  The investment climate is made even more comfortable with the full support of pro mining organizations such as the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines. And because the constitution is calibrated, the process of mining, from application to operation to termination, is able to sneak in conveniently. As a result, legal rights groups would find it slippery to ascertain room and question ‘constitutionality’ of such corporate projects. Because the national government is squeezed by those institutions, they would have to extend the fine tuning down to local government units (including regional DENR/MGB and NCIP branches) and any locally agreed code that should ideally stand for the interests of people and nature (if there’s authentically any) would have to be discarded.  Objectively, local government codes are always subject to change if the national government demands.

What happens at the grassroots level is intensified tension and aggressive retaliation of communities against the conformity of LGU’s(local government units) to the national government, the deceptive trickery of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, and the divide and rule tactics of Mining companies.  Although communities get technical and sometimes financial support from grassroots groups and organizations, the pressure per se is so vivid that it would take ages to alleviate the tension.  When the communities and their supporting outside groups get super militant and take meta-constitution measures as what the Anislagan people demonstrated in early 2000’s and the attack of the New People’s Army against the Nickel mines of Surigao in October 2011, companies stretch back a bit and later deploy militias to protect their interests. Under the hands of impulsive, violent militias, communities’ security at all levels is highly jeopardized.  The growing stress between the community and the militias often lead to violent confrontations like what happened to Armin Marin in Sibuyan Island, Romblon in 2007.  Oftentimes when companies caught themselves cornered by external pressures, they would attack the foundations of community resistance by framing up hyperactive and public personality activists, frame them up and throw in criminal charges (anything they can think of, from robbery to murder), just to weaken the community resistance and further advance their agenda.

Enter the role of the mainstream mass media – to sensationalize stories and present biases.  In the history of corporate power resistance in the Philippines, the only thing that the mass media did is filter out what needs to be heard and strain what deserves to be disseminated. On another end, the international community force such as PIPLINKS, Third World Network, Mining watch Canada, among the many, supports the communities by way of networking, lobbying, education, and international advocacy. And the presence of such groups is in fact, a big help in terms of community empowerment, global justice advocacy, and international network building. However, the means do not leverage what is required.  The actions are not enough to transmit escalated pressure to stop corporate projects in the Philippines.

The evidence of economic injustice, socio-political dictatorship, and environmental negligence is just so overwhelming that it is absurd to debate whether large scale mining and other corporate government projects is good or not. What this is, is nothing but an intensified institutional violence that exacerbates the living conditions of the poor people, degeneration of esprit de corps, and interminable ecological meltdown of the Philippine biosphere.


The whole spectrum is vague if there is not enough information supply and actual personal research on how these corporations operate on all levels.  At the surface, the corporations claim that what they do is promote responsible mining, invest in social welfare by giving jobs, education, and provide housing and medical care to its host communities.  They assert that they invest in environmental protection and management and does their part in helping the Philippines grow economically. However, the evidences strongly contradict the claims.  What we find in communities are jobless, landless people because (1) they lack the technical skills and diploma and, (2) because they were evicted from their farmlands.  We’ll also find tired families and hopeless communities, contamination of watersheds, steep slopes posing high possibilities of landslides, and so on… If we’ll dig deeper at the core, what we find is a crusty set of filthy value structures that are very atrocious and egocentric.  Unfortunately, those structures resonate from the high offices of the company all the way down to the people who do the legwork.  Under the hands of those institutions, the basic needs of the communities – land, water, shelter, livelihood and political and economic self-determination are always set aside to prioritize their needs – minerals that reserve their superprofits in the global market; and the profit shares of voracious officials of DENR/MGB and the national government.

The hocus-pocus vogue of transnational companies –under the guise of economic development, environmental protection and social equity plus the insistences of financial institutions and international organizations, places the Philippines in an enclosed gamma trap where there is little possibility of evasion to regression or transcendence.  Pressures from all businesses all over the world, the perpetual debt of the Philippines to fiscal institutions and the corrupt nature of Philippine governance, led the archipelago to where it is right now.   Large scale extraction of minerals and commercialization projects in rich biodiversity forests and in near coastal areas where indigenous people, farmers and fisher folks are housed, inevitably results to displacement of local communities, livelihood loss – eviction of farmlands, fishing grounds and hunting grounds; deletion of wilderness resulting to forest denudation, wildlife threats and extinction, soil toxification and coral reef demise.


Social theorists define situational structures as relatively stable patterns (Hargens, Zimmerman) and those structures are maintained by a number of towers that make possible the multiplicity of situations.  Nonetheless, all issues boil down predictably to the essential needs of the people. In the context of large scale mining and huge corporate projects in the Philippines, the stabilizers of the conflict, on the community side, is the lack of knowledge and technical know-how on how to defeat the corporations, insufficient pressure to the Philippine government from the international community, lack of resources, and lack of inter-community solidarity and networking.  Added to that are frequent cases of unreliable rural livelihood income plus the pervasion of behaviors that encourage corporate operations to take place – want of easy money at the expense of the environment arising from family-limited economic concerns, compliance to corporate promises such as livelihood programs, etc.  On the enemy’s side, there is little or no attention of media groups to check and balance the issue, there’s graft and corruption of government funds, national and regional government officials receive profit shares from corporate investments, there are deceptive livelihood projects, there is deployment of militias, and corporations have forefronts of nice and smiling faces of public relations officers.  Given those conditions, albeit the retaliation, protests and campaigns of the communities against corporate ruthlessness, corporations still manages to appear with poise and glamour to the public because they are able to adroitly manipulate the situation.


CAFOD (2008).  Philippine Country Profile.  Kept in the Dark: Why it’s time for communities in the Philippines to have their say.  p.8

Conservation International. (n.d.).  Philippines.  Biodiversity Hotspots.  Retrieved from:

Hargens, S.E., Zimmerman, M. E. (n.d.).  An Overview of Integral Ecology.   Integral Institute, Resource paper No. 2, p. 6.

Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment Defend Patrimony! Alliance.  (2008). Project Financers.  2008 Mining Situation and Struggle in the Philippines.  Kalikasan-PNE Defend Patrimony! Alliance, p. 7-8

Legeza, L. (1984).  Tantric Elements in pre-Hispanic Philippines.  Arts of Asia.  p. 131.  Retrieved from:

Malang, Z. (2010).  A Long-Running Conflict in Search of an End.  Endless violence in the Philippines? Perspectives on the Conflict in Mindanao.  p.8 Mines and Geosciences Bureau –

Political Dynasties. (n.d). In Wikipilipinas.  Retrieved December 2, 2011, from:

Rebuta, C.  (2010).  Presentation – Philippine Biodiversity.  [Powerpoint Slides].

Vidal. A. (2005).  Background Rationale section.  Resource Kit on Mining Issues in Mindanao.  (pp.12-13).  AFRIM Inc.

Zafra, J.  (2008).  Going for the Gold.  Newsweek Magazine.  Retrieved from:

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