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Last Updated: 12/03/2010
Winning the Locals in the Decision-making on Mining Projects: Advocacy Campaigns in Rapu-Rapu Island, Philippines
Menandro S. Abanes

In the early 2000s, mining companies and environmental groups launched competing advocacy campaigns to sway local opinion on the commencement of mining operations on Rapu-Rapu Island in the Philippines. Ultimately, pro-mining advocacy was more effective, and the local people and environment were subjected to tailings spillage and other damages in subsequent years. Menandro S. Abanes draws lessons from this experience and reflects on the role of local people in environmental management.

Mining is always controversial. Scientific studies and objective data on mining operations have found it to bring adverse effects and negative impacts on the locals and the environment, such as displacement from homes and traditional livelihoods, dependence on cash income and incursion into their value system leading to consumerism, health problems caused by exposure to toxic materials, siltation of waterways, deforestation, loss of productive land, and pollution of marine environments (Coumans, 1999; Florentino-Hofile-a, 1996; McAndrew, 1983; Regis, 2001; Tujan & Guzman, 1998). Environmental advocacy campaigns, particularly anti-mining, communicate these adverse effects to the locals to convince them to join the struggle against mining. However, the locals also know that mining brings jobs, cash income, and various development projects, such as electrification, paved roads, schools with free or subsidized education, chapels, water system, and other livelihood programs. Some of these mining benefits are yet to be enjoyed and experienced by the locals in their lifetime, and now the chance and opportunity are real for them. Given these two scenarios, how do the locals decide on a mining project? How do they participate in the decision-making? What influences their participation in decision-making?

This article looks at the extent of participation of the locals in the decision-making on mining projects and how their participation can be influenced through advocacy campaigns. It brings the Rapu-Rapu Island’s case in point.

Environmental advocacy campaigns are broadly anchored on sustainable development as a guiding principle for strategies and actions. The rhetoric of development planning and intervention since the Brundtland Report of 1987 and Rio Summit of 1992 has been woven around sustainable development. Its basic tenet is meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising those of the future generation, and in the process improving the quality of life. While it reiterates the centrality of human persons in the concerns and issues of development, it also puts the environment factor (which has been traditionally neglected) into the development discourse.

The United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) 2002 Human Development Report highlighted people's participation through democratic governance as a human development strategy. People have a fundamental right to participate in the decisions and issues that shape their lives. The Rio Summit states in its Principle 10, “Environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level.” Particularly local participation is believed to frame the issues and concerns in the perspective of the locals who have the greatest stake in development projects, such as irrigation, road, and dam constructions, logging concessions, and mining operations. Various States including the Philippines have instituted participatory governance in their development undertakings for and with their people, especially of those environmentally critical projects like mining.

The Philippine Mining Act of 1995

The passage of Republic Act (RA) 7942, otherwise known as the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, is said to be a step towards the goal of sustainable development and a showcase of participatory governance. Although many critics of the law and anti-mining groups would call for its repeal due to the apparent surrender of mineral resources exploitation by foreign-owned mining companies, many were also satisfied with the restrictions and regulations put in place to secure the welfare of the host communities, minimize environmental impacts, and invite the participation of locals.

Since the mining industry is often blamed for many environmental catastrophes, such as tailings spillages in Marinduque and Sipalay, Negros Occidental in the Philippines, the paradoxical concept of “sustainable mining” has introduced by the industry. Likewise, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) revised the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of RA 7942 to rebrand mining as pro-people and pro-environment. Operationalizing sustainable mining though faces serious doubts on its feasibility and expediency. Land rehabilitation in the post mining stage and best practices in mining industry's environmental management are dependent on the strict implementation, monitoring, evaluation of the DENR and actual compliance of the mining companies on the conditionalities of the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) issued to them. This is where the DENR fails to appease the critics and anti-mining advocates on its capability to implement and carry out environmental laws that protect both the locals and environment.

R.A. 7942 provides for the social acceptability clause that is required in any mining projects to be implemented. It means that no ECC will be issued if the locals oppose the mining project being proposed. In other words, it is the decision of the locals which can make or break a mining project to proceed for its operation. It is participation in a radical fashion, yet what happens on the ground tells a different story.

Different participations: resistance or acceptance

Mining issues are always divisive, especially if politicians and money are involved and further complicate the issues. Consequently, eliciting participation from the locals comes with a price. Division among the locals becomes a common occurrence when consultations or assemblies are called to decide on certain matters of communal interest. Public hearings and consultations on mining projects are no exception. Conflicts and tensions rise when stakes are high and a certain stance is required about mining issues. Sometimes, locals of various communities show ambivalent positions when faced with mining projects in their midst. Still, acceptance of or resistance to a mining project is a form of participation in the decision-making.

One of the most popular and controversial cases of local participation in decision-making on the fate of a mining project was by the La Bugal-B'laan Tribal Association, Inc. of Tampakan, South Cotabato in the Philippines. This group of indigenous peoples brought the case to the Supreme Court to stop the planned mining project of Western Mining Corporation Philippines (WMCP). The Court issued two differing resolutions. On January 2004, the Court declared certain provisions of R.A. 7942 as unconstitutional, such as allowing foreign-owned mining companies to operate in the exploration, development and utilization of the country's mineral resources, and the Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) between the Philippine Government and WMCP. On December of the same year, the Court turned back on its decision and upheld the constitutionality of R.A. 7942 and its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR). In the same resolution, however, some provisions in the FTAA between the government and WMCP were found "grossly disadvantageous to the government." This landmark decision paved the way for more foreign-owned and controlled mining projects to be proposed in the country. But the road leading to the issuance of ECC was not smooth and straightforward for these mining projects. Anti-mining groups would not give up easily and sought to influence the locals of their concerns and worries of the costs and effects of mining.

There are literatures describing the resistances exerted by the locals on proposed or existing mining projects. These actions are reflections of the apparent threat of mining operations to the locals' livelihood particularly those of small-scale miners, of a seeming mistrust by the locals on the government's capability to enforce environmental laws and on the mining companies' sincerity and accountability of their promises and activities. In Marinduque Island, Catherine Coumans (1995) documents the struggle of the locals together with the local Catholic Church, non-government organizations (NGOs), and astute politicians against Marcopper Mining Corporation, partly owned by the Canadian company Placer Dome, Inc. Evelyn Caballero (2001) and Jessica Cari-o (1992) write about the resistance of the locals of Itogon, Benguet on the open-pit mining project of Benguet Corporation. The locals conducted pickets, barricades, and rallies on their own initiative to protest the mining project which resulted to the DENR's suspension order of the project operation in the area (Caballero, 2001, 176). In Palawan Island, Yasmin Arquiza (1997) reports the opposition of the two tribes to mining projects. The Pala'wan tribe of Espa-ola town opposed the cement project with mining of limestone and shale of Fenway Resources Ltd. of Canada and Central Palawan Mining and Industrial Corporation. On the other hand, the Tagbanua of Berong, Quezon town were threatened by the planned nickel mine project of Filipino-owned Long Point and Stellar Gold Corporation of Canada. According to the survey commissioned by the mining company, less than half of the locals in Berong showed support for the mining project, but the barangay (village) council backed the mining project. The barangay became divided because of the project.

The Mangyan in Sablayan, Mindoro Island also became divided when a new Mangyan group represented by Lupang Ninuno Kabilogan Mangyan, Inc. (LNKMI) gave its Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC), which is a requisite for a mining project planning to operate in an area populated and claimed as ancestral domain by indigenous peoples, to the Mindoro Nickel Project of Mindex while the provincial federation of Mangyan, Kalipunan Para sa Lupaing Ninuno, questioned the endorsement by LNKMI whose most members were employed by Mindex (Environmental Science for Social Change – Bishops Businessmen Conference, 1999, 81). In Mindanao, the Subanen of Western Mindanao demanded to revoke the exploration permit of Cozinc Rio Tinto Ltd. of Australia (CRA), a subsidiary of Rio Tinto Zinc (RTZ) of Brazil (Tujan & Guzman, 1998, 178), In Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte, locals who were small-scale miners barricaded the mining area of the Canadian Toronto Ventures, Inc. (TVI) to stop its operations (ibid., 162-163).

To show the bifurcated stance of the locals on mining projects, the book, Mining Revisited: Can an Understanding of Perspectives Help?, presents communities which are pro- and anti-mining:

It may also happen that community members will be totally in favor of a new development in their area. They are convinced that this is the best way to go and see the mining operation as a golden opportunity to develop their community. With mining investments comes schools, health services, roads, electricity, jobs, a chance to better themselves. This type of community that wholeheartedly welcomes the mining company is also the exception (Environmental Science for Social Change – Bishops Businessmen Conference, 1999, 81).

A case in point is Sitio Padcal, Camp 3 in Tuba, Benguet. Philex Mining Corporation has been credited for doing improvements and social services for the community. Interestingly, a neighbor community of Camp 3 in Tuba was against the expansion of of Philex to its area. Upon hearing that Philex planned to expand its operation into their area, the barangay council of Ansagan made a resolution opposing any mining activity in their area. They feared that mining activity would dry up the water sources which supply their irrigated farms.

A united community is hard to maintain when confronted with a new mining project. In Mainit, Mt. Province, the locals strongly opposed any mining activity in their area in the 1930s. When Newcrest Exploration Philippines, Inc. signified their intention to explore the area, some locals were amendable with it.

Is it then possible to have a common stand from the locals? In the round of consultations with indigenous peoples (IP) in 1997 prior to the passage of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), IP groups stated that "it is possible for an entire community to have one opinion and be united on one position on issues affecting them. An entire community can agree and settle on a position of unity" (ibid., 33). In the end, however, the extent of participation of the locals in the decision-making whether to resist or accept a mining project could be determined by how much a certain project is able to ease their struggle for daily survival; "There can be no other decision from the community but that which extends their human lives further" (ibid., 33). And this is what happened in Rapu-Rapu Island, Albay.

Rapu-Rapu case

In July 2001 after three years of application, the DENR granted an ECC with 29 conditionalities to Lafayette Philippines, Inc. (LPI), an Australian mining company, on its Rapu-Rapu Polymetallic Project, which covers 180 hectares from three direct impact barangays – Malobago, Pagcolbon and Binosawan. Lauded as the first mining project to undergo the rigorous process of acquiring the necessary requirements set by RA 7942 leading to the issuance of ECC, Lafayette intended to mine gold, silver, copper, and zinc in Rapu-Rapu Island, Albay for six years.

Bounded by Albay Gulf on the west, Lagonoy Gulf on the north, and the Pacific Ocean on the east, Rapu-Rapu is a relatively poor and 4th-class municipality composed of three islands, namely, Batan, Rapu-Rapu, and Guinanayan. Rapu-Rapu Island, which hosts the town center and mining site of Lafayette, has a land area of 5,589 hectares. It has a long mining history dating back to pre-Japanese times. Although the island is situated along the so-called typhoon belt, the primary means of livelihood of the locals as in other rural poor areas are fishing and farming which are greatly affected by typhoons and other adverse weather conditions. Most of the locals in Rapu-Rapu are fishers and farmers.

In granting the ECC to Lafayette, the DENR was convinced that the project was able to muster necessary and sufficient support from and was socially acceptable to the locals. This view was disputed by Sagip-Isla Sagip-Kapwa, Inc. (SSI), a people’s organization established through the initiative of the Rapu-Rapu parish to campaign against mining the island. SSI was supported by various religious congregations headed by Bishop Jose Sorra of the Diocese of Legazpi, cause-oriented groups, and the three major universities in Bicol, namely, Ateneo de Naga University, Bicol University, and Aquinas University. Despite the support of these institutions and groups for the anti-mining campaign, the DENR saw that majority of the locals, whose livelihoods were unstable, were in favor of the mining project in their island.

To what extent did the locals of Rapu-Rapu participate in the decision-making? What influenced their participation and decision-making? How did the pro and anti-mining advocacy campaigns figure in this process?

Surprisingly, the issuance of ECC to Lafayette came at a time when resistance to mining was widespread and gaining popular support somewhere else in the country. It was at this time when the locals of Mindoro through the Alyansang Mindorense (ALAMIN) rejected the mining project of Mindex/Aglubang Mining Corporation which led to the cancellation of the DENR of the Mineral Production and Sharing Agreement (MPSA) with Mindex/Aglubang. Environmentalist groups, non-government organizations, and the Catholic Church usually made alliances with the affected locals to and solidify their stance against transnational mining corporations and the Philippine government for vigorously and wantonly attracting and readily welcoming mining investments and projects without apparent consideration to the plight and struggle of some locals against these mining corporations and projects, as in the case of Rapu-Rapu.

Lessons from Rapu-Rapu

Several lessons could be learned from the advocacy campaigns launched by both pro-mining and anti-mining groups as they tried to influence the participation in decision-making of the locals whether to resist or accept the Rapu-Rapu mining project.

First, advocacy campaigns must be grounded on, sensitive of, and responsive to the realities of the locals. The pro-mining advocacy campaigns were able to highlight the locals' basic need – livelihood stability. Many locals were not earning sufficiently from fishing and farming, and were looking for alternative sources of income, which the mining project could provide. Another factor that could have tipped the scales in favor of the mining project was the timing of the project.

In October 1998, super typhoon Loleng devastated the province of Albay and damaged local properties. The decreasing fish catch and unreliable crop production in the area did not help in providing the cash income needed for the repair and reconstruction of houses. Many locals who wanted to have access to cash income saw the mining project as an opportunity to rebuild and to gain a regular source of cash income. The locals responded positively in the livelihood programs of the company-sponsored cooperative by availing of its services such as hog and poultry-raising and animal feeds retailing, although, after just two and a half years, the cooperative went bankrupt.

A second lesson from the Rapu-Rapu case is that leadership is key to a successful advocacy campaign. The pro-mining group found influential and effective leaders in the politicians and public officials who are the patrons of most locals in Rapu-Rapu, while the anti-mining group was unable to find leaders in important areas such as the barangays of Malobago and Pagcolbon. In barangay Binosawan however, the anti-mining group found good leaders that's why Binosawan remains a stronghold of the anti-mining group in Rapu-Rapu. The pro-mining governor of Albay, mayor of Rapu-Rapu, and barangay captains of Malobago, Pagcolbon, and Binosawan convinced their constituents of the benefits of the mining project. They joined the campaign and more locals were persuaded by these leaders to agree with their pro-mining position.

On the other hand, the one leading the anti-mining group was the parish priest of Rapu-Rapu. With more than 97 percent of the total population of Rapu-Rapu being Catholics, it was logical to believe that the priest had a command of respect and following in the parish. But the routine of work and untenured assignment as a priest in a parish plus the physical characteristics of the island which is prohibitive to mobility from one barangay to another defied this logic of the priest's influence among his parishioners. Since the parish is based in Poblacion, which is roughly 15 kilometers away from the mining site and accessible only by sea, the anti-mining group was relatively strong in Poblacion where the parish priest was visible and had established networks of loyal parishioners who became the core group of SSI. The priest came to visit every barangay only once a month, which could have made the locals of these far-flung barangays a bit detached from the influence of the priest and was unlike the pro-mining barangay and municipal officials who were very visible at the barangays anytime of the day.

The third lesson is that the organizational structure of a group and its capacity to strategize the advocacy campaigns are effective when they consider and understand the social and power structures of the community and involve the local leaders. The pro-mining campaign was backed by a clear-cut organization (LPI) with substantial funding and full-time staff and public officials focused on convincing the locals of the benefits and advantages of the mining project unto their lives, while the anti-mining group was driven by a loose organization composed of volunteers. Although these volunteers who were mostly teachers, students, professionals, fishers, and farmers seemed passionate of the cause, they still needed to attend to their primary jobs outside of the struggle against mining. Moreover, the anti-mining group was successful in forming and identifying allies outside the island, while its organizing work in the barangays was less effective. The anti-mining group was concerned of bringing the issues in the regional and national level while the anti-mining group was doing their work in the barangay level. Also, the structure of SSI was concentrated and attached to the parish structure, so that when the priest was transferred to another assignment, the whole campaign was afected.

Fourth, The Rapu-Rapu case demonstrates that strategies encouraging local participation in campaign activities create a sense of belongingness and ownership of the struggle. The greater the contact of the locals with the activities, the greater the chance the locals will participate. Many activities of the anti-mining group were held in Poblacion and Legazpi City where it spoke of the costs and adverse effects of mining and organized a few activities, such as picket, public hearing and masses were done in the direct impact barangays of Malobago, Pagcolbon and Binosawan.

Marvic Leonen (2000) cites the challenges confronting advocacy, and on top of them is to identify a constituency. It is “the problem of whom one can represent as an advocate and of what one can legitimately say on the basis of the sector, class, or group represented” (ibid., 81). It should be clear who the target constituents of the campaign are. The anti-mining group wanted to elevate the issues to the regional and national level where policy-making is made, while the pro-mining group began with a campaign for the approval of the public officials, working from there to the level of the locals, sometimes with the local leaders’ presence in the campaign. It was easy for the locals to participate since their officials or leaders were with them. Informal leaders of the barangays were deferential to the formal leaders, except for barangay Binosawan. As in other rural area, the patron-client relations still dominate the political, economic, and social landscape of Rapu-Rapu, which the anti-mining group failed to recognize. The patrons and public officials of the barangays (dakulang tao) are normally the rich (Lynch, 1975). In this patron-client arrangement, typical local participation can be observed with the patron taking the center stage and doing the talking while the client is looking agreeable to the pronouncements of his/her patron. This is not the local participation designed by participatory governance, with freedom and without undue pressure to the locals.

A fifth lesson we can draw from this case is that simplicity and clarity of the message and content of advocacy campaigns generate understanding and response, in terms of either acceptance or resistance. Clearly, the message of pro-mining group was employment and various development projects, such as electrification, school building, and livelihood projects, among others. The SSI conveyed the goal of avoiding the impending destruction of the island’s ecosystem once mining operations commence: however, this was not quite intelligible to the locals, especially when expressed through figurative and metaphoric forms in the sermons of a priest. An informant’s reaction to the warning from SSI that the island would sink and be destroyed if mining would be allowed is telling: "Buwa yan! Pano man maglubog an Rapu-Rapu? Nakapasak baga kita sa daga sa irarom" (It's non-sense! How would Rapu-Rapu sink? We are attached to the underwater ground). Many locals dismissed the claims of SSI for reasons they would not believe that God would allow bad things to happen to their island, much less to them.

Finally, this case study shows that the role of media cannot be undermined in advocacy campaigns. Both pro-mining and anti-mining groups in Rapu-Rapu had relative successes in disseminating and raising their points and counterpoints through the use of media. The anti-mining group was able to call the attention of the Senate through its Committee on Environment to conduct an inquiry in aid of legislation regarding the mining issues in Rapu-Rapu with much media coverage. The pro-mining group, on the other hand, took a time slot in a local radio station in Legazpi City, Albay exhorting the public of the benefits of the mining project. These uses of media served the purpose of influencing, convincing and gaining an audience supportive of their causes.


The lessons presented here challenge the way the locals are treated in advocacy campaigns. The locals do not passively participate in activities, rather, embedded in the social and power structures, the locals engage the physical, political, economic, and sociocultural contexts they found themselves in. To influence their participation in decision-making, these various contexts that enfold their behaviors and actions must be taken into account in the formulation of an advocacy agenda.

Elected public officials, such as the governor, mayor, and barangay captains, are placed in power by the locals through elections. This does not mean, however, that the power to decide resides in them. Rather, a consented use of power is endowed on them. The power ultimately remains with the locals who elected them. With this, the locals should be widely and properly informed of and consulted on the mining issues besetting them without undue pressures from the patrons or public officials. At times, resistance surfaces because local participation is curtailed and decision-making is done without transparency to the locals.

After the October 11 and October 31, 2005 incidents of tailings spillages that resulted in a major fish kill in the immediate fishing areas in Rapu-Rapu Island, Lafayette's operation was suspended. Many locals of neighboring barangays and municipalities lost income. A fact-finding commission headed by Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon was formed to investigate the incidents. The commission's report found out that Lafayette erred in conducting their operations responsibly according to the ECC given by DENR. It recommended the revocation of the ECC, a moratorium of mining operations in Rapu-Rapu, and a review of the Mining Act of 1995.

A month after the release of Bastes' commission report, Lafayette was given a temporary permit to proceed with its test-run after the mining company made an assurance that preventive measures, which cost millions of pesos, had been put in place. This means that the struggle against mining in Rapu-Rapu Island continues, as does the quest for sustainable development. As Tandon (1993) puts it, “resistance today is the main form of sustainable development.”

The analysis of advocacy campaigns in Rapu-Rapu is interesting for both the pro- and anti-mining groups. Whoever has learned the lessons most will more likely influence the locals to join their cause. But the locals have also learned their lessons. What is clear now is that there has been a reawakening brought about by the recent spillage incidents among the locals on mining issues and their stakes on these issues in Rapu-Rapu and perhaps in the country. How to engage this reawakening of the locals on mining issues is the challenge that environmental advocacy campaigns must take on and confront to win locals’ participation on their sides.


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This paper draws data from the author's fieldwork in Rapu-Rapu, Albay from August 2004 to February 2005. A shorter version of an article appeared in May-July 2006 issue of Salin-Diwa, a Tri-Annual Publication of the Partnership of Philippine Support Service Agencies, Inc. (PHILSSA). The author would like to thank Jon Villase-or and Loraine Panopio for generously giving their comments and suggestions. Look for the forthcoming e-book entitled UnderMining the Power of Community: The Politics of Mining and Local Communities in the Philippines by the same author.