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Catholic social teaching and mining in the Philippines

15 September 2012

Indigenous youth visit mining site in Claver, Surigao del Norte in Mindanao, Philippines. Photo credit: ESSC

Sylvia Miclat

The Society of Jesus Social Apostolate (SJSA) in the Philippines, recognizing the complexity of the issues and the multiple views that mineral development give rise to, developed and released early this month “The Golden Mean in Mining: Talking Points.”  As SJSA Coordinator Robert Rivera, SJ writes, the talking points are meant “to help not just in guiding (Jesuit) institutional involvements but also in re-animating public discussions and responses to this issue.”

The talking points primarily lay out a set of principles based on Catholic Social Teaching to guide people as they engage with mining issues.  The SJSA document juxtaposes the mining discussion in the framework of the ethical principles from Catholic social teaching: stewardship, precautionary principle, common good, subsidiarity, preferential option for the poor, dignity of labor, association, and respect for human life.

Under the principle of stewardship, the health of the environment is a key concern identified and that “in all stages of the mining process, from exploration to extraction, attention must be given to promote both natural and human ecology.”  No-go areas, environmental and social impact assessments, vulnerability to disasters, and global best practices must be considered in deciding to pursue mining.

In addressing health and environmental risks, the precautionary principle is called for when available scientific information and data are inadequate or contradictory, and prudent policies must be applied “based on a comparison of the risks and benefits foreseen for the various possible alternatives, including the decision not to intervene.”  With this, the document encourages all Jesuit institutions to build the capacity to gather and assess relevant information that can assist the discussions on mining.

The common good is exhorted and quotes from John Paul II who states, “the right to the common use of goods is the first principle of the whole ethical and social order” and “that the ‘universal destination of goods’ must be preserved in the mining process, for all wealth is under a ‘social mortgage.’”

The principle of subsidiarity insists that activities that smaller and subordinate organizations can do should best be left with these organizations and is applied in understanding the roles and responsibilities of national government, local government units, mining corporations large and small, mining-affected communities, especially indigenous peoples.  Along with other stakeholders, subsidiarity challenges all in observing the rule of law and avoiding corruption.

Preferential option for the poor entails adjusting profit margins and revenues to ensure that mining benefits and transforms communities, that there is community involvement in mining operations, that the welfare and safety of host communities are looked after, that special attention to indigenous peoples is provided so that their integrity, systems, and leadership are not destroyed as they respond to mining interests, that guidance and assistance is provided to small-scale miners to shift them to more responsible mining, and that there is rehabilitation of post-mining areas where the host communities, usually the poor, will continue to live.

The dignity of labor must be ensured through respecting and protecting labor rights in the workplace.  Dehumanizing, degrading, and dangerous work conditions, including children who work in small-scale mines, cannot continue.  Safe practices and better working conditions are imperative and the rights of workers to organize themselves must be respected.

Association in civil society and to dialogue in good faith are understood as needed “checks and balances” that are always good and helpful.  Government and the mining industry are asked to be receptive to civil society concerns and inputs and to institutionalize social venues and mechanisms where dialogue can take place.

Respect for human life is the most basic principle of Catholic social teaching.  Mining operations must aspire to this and that human rights and freedom from fear must be ensured.

The SJSA document is endorsed by Father Provincial Jose C Magadia, SJ to all SJSA partners and Jesuit communities, who encourages all “to study and share the document, and more importantly, to use it to understand and better respond to the mining issue.”

The SJSA document can be accessed through this link:

Sylvia Miclat is with the Environmental Science for Social Change, a Jesuit research organization in the Philippines and a network partner of the Society of Jesus Social Apostolate.

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2 Responses to Catholic social teaching and mining in the Philippines

  1. pedro walpole on 31 October 2012 at 10:36 am

    Hello Amor, this is good to hear from you, yes if this is of help please do, could you also let us know something of the situation you are involved in as these are really challenging time in mining, a ‘work class’ gold mine is in the works for Mindanao in the Philippines and there is much legal questioning of the relations of national and local government as well as the return to the country and impacts on agriculture…
    much thanks

    Pedro Walpole

  2. Amor SM Velarde on 29 September 2012 at 4:10 pm

    I read the document and without doubt your work could be very helpful in PNG. I could pass on your link to the PNG Environmental Law Society when I return to PNG. Thanks for a good job & hope it continues.

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