Philippine Catholic bishops urge Arroyo to cancel all mining concessions

Influential Catholic bishops on Sunday urged Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to repeal a 1995 act that liberalized the mining industry and cancel all concessions, warning of massive environmental damage and the loss of mining resources to giant foreign companies.

Arroyo has vigorously encouraged foreign mining corporations to invest in the country to bolster the ailing economy and create jobs in a politically difficult time. She has been hounded since last year by a debilitating crisis over corruption and vote-rigging allegations.

The 120-member Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines issued a statement during their three-day annual retreat in Manila expressing concern over the presence of foreign mining companies.

The 1995 Philippine Mining Act allows foreign companies to explore and develop mining sites in partnership with the government.

Supporting the call of several non-governmental groups including tribal communities, the bishops asked Arroyo to stop 24 large-scale government mining projects, citing six gold and copper mining companies.

"The promised economic benefits of mining by these transnational corporations are outweighed by the dislocation of communities especially among our indigenous brothers and sisters, the risks to health and livelihood, and massive environmental damage," the bishops said in the statement.

"Our experiences of environmental tragedies and incidents with the mining transnational corporations belie all assurances of sustainable and responsible mining that the Arroyo administration is claiming," they said.

Mining areas remain among the country's poorest regions, they said.

Last year, Philippine mining officials ordered the suspension of a US$42-million flagship project funded by Australian and South Korean investors after cyanide-laced waste spilled and killed fish on Rapu-Rapu island, 380 kilometers (235 miles) southeast of Manila.

In 1996, millions of tons of mine waste from an impounding dam of the Marcopper Mining Corp. spilled into a river on central Marinduque island, creating an environmental disaster. The mine was subsequently closed by the government, AP reported. V.A.

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