Cielo Magno says EITI has started a healthy dialogue with civil society about mining in the country.
The extraction of resources, particularly through mining, evokes controversy in the Philippines. Mining is associated with environmental destruction, militarization and displacement of communities, conflict, loss of land and sacred sites of our indigenous communities, loss of livelihood for farmers and fisher folks, harassment and even death to some of our environmental and anti-mining activists. Some communities hosting mining activities have higher incidence of poverty than communities without mining. These are among the reasons why there are very strong anti-mining sentiments in the Philippines. It is in this context that we, as civil society, introduced Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI) in the country.
EITI evoking debate
EITI has evoked a lot of debates among CSOs in the country. Will it be an invitation to do mining in the Philippines? How will it affect communities opposed to mining? EITI as originally conceived is narrowly focused on financial transparency and it may not solve most of the problems and concerns we have raised regarding the extractive industry. But, we also believe that EITI provides enough room for countries to be flexible and define the scope of EITI. Other countries like Timor Leste pushed the boundaries of EITI to include expenditure tracking, showing that EITI can be broadened to cover country-specific concerns. We believe it is the primary role of the CSOs to push the boundaries of EITI to be more relevant to the needs of the country.
For communities hosting mining operations, EITI can provide the opportunity for these communities to strengthen their rights to participate in the decision making process of mining activities in their communities, to monitor and assess the impact of mining operations of the companies they are hosting. They can determine whether they are getting the fair share of the natural resources extracted in their area. EITI can guarantee access to information to enable the communities to exercise these rights.
Furthermore, in a decentralized context, local governments can implement their own subnational EITI, like the subnational EITI Bantay Kita is supporting in Compostela Valley and T'boli, South Cotabato. In implementing subnational EITI, local stakeholders can monitor the process on how licenses are issued and how consultations are conducted. Community members can influence how money from extractive activities are actually spent by their local governments.
We are optimistic that EITI will be a platform in strengthening peoples’ rights to be part of the decision making process in utilizing our natural resources. We hope that EITI can serve as a venue to strengthen the process of acquiring the free prior and informed consent (FPIC) of indigenous peoples and expenditure monitoring at the national level through the creation of a sovereign wealth fund.
We acknowledge the effort of the Philippine government in implementing a package of policy reforms in managing our natural resources and the inclusion of EITI as an important component of these reforms. We engage in EITI because we do not want to see the process to be used as a rubber stamp to do business as usual in the Philippines. EITI should be a mechanism that strengthens the rights of communities and the people to engage and participate in decision making regarding the use of our natural resources. And while we have high hopes of improving governance in the industry by making governments and companies accountable, it is also clear to us that EITI is not the solution to all our problems. We continue to engage our government in identifying areas that are closed to mining and extraction. We continue to respect and support community and local government opposition to mining. But with EITI, we also express our willingness to work with the government and business sector to make the government and the extractive industry more transparent and accountable.
Cielo Magno is the National Coordinator of Bantay Kita, the coalition working for transparency and accountability in the extractive industry in the Philippines. She is a member of the Global Steering Committee of Publish What You Pay (PWYP). She represents the civil society organization in the multi-stakeholders group of the Philippines.