On Wednesday, March 29, GMA News Online ran a story about a UP teacher claiming two things: that Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) employees were ordered by an undersecretary to “find fault” in mining operations, and that students will not find good jobs in the mining industry after graduation.
These are University of the Philippines students, ones this same professor has taught, ones that taxpayers’ money has put through university education, and they are being told they will have no options outside of the current mining status quo.
The thoughtless statements, the baseless nameless accusations, this doomsday scenario, is unexpected coming from a teacher of the State University. But then again, we have heard this same professor at the Commission on Appointments (CA) caucus standing against the confirmation of environmentalist Gina Lopez as DENR Secretary, as we have heard him countless times defending the mining industry, while always falling silent on irresponsible mining projects and how these have wreaked havoc on communities and the environment.
I guess these statements shouldn’t have been such a surprise.
Arcilla: Tampakan advocate
To the general public Carlos Arcilla might only be known as that UP teacher who speaks in favor of mining companies.
In 2012, he was in the news about the Tampakan Gold-Copper Project of Sagittarius Mines Inc. in South Cotabato, calling for a debate to be done “reasonably and to refrain from making scenarios that tend to scare people.” For Arcilla, the basis of debate should be “actual field work by actual geologists” (Philstar.com, 12 April 2012), i.e., people like him.
Two months after, Arcilla declared his support for the Tampakan project “as a geologist <and as> someone who wants progress for Mindanao.” He said he believed “the key behind Tampakan” is “managing its impact in the form of tailings or disturbance of the environment that may lead to landslides” (Philstar.com, 14 June 2012).
Four months after, Arcilla asserted that places like Tampakan are “best left to mining” because “sustainable agriculture cannot thrive in highly mineralized soil” (GMA News Online, 1 Oct 2012). This is in stark contrast to his assertion in April, which seems to respond to the question of food or minerals? “I encourage environmentalists… to visit large-scale mining operations in the country that practice responsible mining. If we all work together we can make it food and mining instead” (Philstar.com, 12 April 2012).
Science and society
Arcilla, in relation to the Tampakan mine in 2012, and speaking now against the DENR order to close down mines that are in violation of environmental laws, stands on scientific and academic superiority. It is in his statements against Sec. Lopez, i.e., “The biggest obstacle I see is her lack of scientific training and discernment, which is revealed in her pronouncements” (GMA News Online, 23 June 2016), and “She herself cannot even define what a watershed is (Manila Standard Today, 28 Feb 2017).
This superiority complex also manifests in his insistence that those of us who stand against irresponsible mining just don’t understand mining. “Mining is a complicated business, it’s easy to condemn but it can do a lot of good provided that it is regulated, the environment is protected and the government is willing to listen to experts” (Philstar.com 23 Aug 2016).
Speaking in relation to the environmental degradation in Zambales, which is blamed on mining projects, Arcilla said: “Since you have an ugly mining operation there, it’s so easy to blame it. Perception is one of the big problems of the industry. They’re (miners) being punished for perception” (ABSCBN News, 21 Sept 2016).
Yet Arcilla himself silences the kind of punishment that communities suffer in the hands of irresponsible mining. Those who lose their sources of livelihood, those that lose their lands and suffer the consequences of polluted rivers, denuded forests, dirty air. He also silences the fact that in many places where there are mines, communities don’t only remain poor, they also suffer the abuse and violence – literal and figurative – of having a large-scale, transnational company lording over their communities.
Also, contrary to what Arcilla would like us to believe, there are countless studies and reports, scientific and cultural, that are based on actual visits to mining communities and projects. It is also a fact that between 2012 to 2016, the Supreme Court had issued Writs of Kalikasan for all the mines that the current DENR has ordered closed.
These prove that mining is not at all a matter that should be left to science, but also one that should be answerable to society.
Bias and Transparency
Probably the saddest thing about watching Arcilla go on this downward spiral in such a public way in the name of the mining status quo, is the fact that each time he points a finger at Sec. Lopez and the DENR, he ultimately points a finger at himself.
In a February forum in UP he said that “<Lopez> has maintained her anti-mining position since the very start. It is okay to order the closure of some, but not all.” (Manila Standard Today, 28 Feb). Yet the DENR mining audit included 12 mining companies that passed the audit (GMA News Online, 2 Feb), so it’s not clear what part of that means “closure of all” mines. Unless Arcilla is deliberately spreading fake news.
When he said in June 2016 that he has “seen hundreds of families alleviated from poverty by mining because the jobs provided the miners afforded the education that eventually pulled them out of the poverty grip” (GMA News Online, 23 June 2016), he also points out that the mines did not pull communities out of poverty – employment did. Which is to say that it is investment and business that’s needed, not necessarily mines.
When he asserts that “he doubts his students will find good employment opportunities in the <mining> industry after graduation” (GMA News Online, 29 Mar) given current DENR leadership, he forces us to ask: is Arcilla himself losing jobs with the mining sector, too? Does he stand to lose if and when Sec. Lopez is finally confirmed?
Arcilla has been tagged as someone who works as consultant for various mines, including Marcventures and Century Peak Metals (Bulatlat.com, 7 Mar). His own CV lists more recent “Consulting Work” with DMCI Mining Corporation.
Which tells us really, that probably more than Sec. Lopez, it is Arcilla and critics like him who should be called out for conflict of interest and lack of transparency. Lopez has nothing to gain or lose by cleaning-up the DENR and forcing the mining sector to follow our laws. I am confident that a new generation of UP students will rise to the challenge of this promised shift to responsible mining that is heavily monitored and regulated as set in law.
As for Arcilla: he should take his own advice and “refrain from making scenarios that tend to scare people,” especially his own students who, unlike him, just might see the bigger picture of this particular historical moment when we are being challenged by the promise of responsible, regulated mining towards social justice and sustainability.
First published in The Manila Times, April 2 2017.