Erle Frayne D. Argonza

This paper advocates for an alternative framework regarding mineral resource extraction. It begins with the contention that mining must be considered as primarily a community undertaking, whether the community be national or local. As such, mining must necessarily depart from market-driven models of extraction, or from state-centered models of development, and proceed to a community-oriented or constituency-based engagement.

To be able to comprehend the theme of this paper, let me begin with a story. About four (4) years ago, a former university student of mine at the University of the Philippines Manila informed me that a mining engineer wished to establish a (mining) foothold in the Cordillera. Accordingly, the engineer heard about my mystical background, and was interested to know if there are indeed precious metals in the proposed project site. That is, the engineer expected me to communicate directly to the invisible elemental entities in the area and ask their permission to establish a mining project.

Not only that. Having heard about my background as a political economist, with diversified interest and studies in indigenous culture, the mining firm he represented wanted to know what acceptable methods to employ in flushing out the indigenous people residing in the area.

To cut the story short, I declined the offer, even as I registered my vehement opposition to the sordidly profit-oriented venture of this engineer. If mining has to prosper at all, it must begin with the reality that there are people who have been settled for many epochs in the area of extraction. A win-win solution to the mining problem must be executed, not by expelling the local residents but precisely by involving them in the venture.

Let me now share to you another story. In 1998, at the height of the Asian financial crisis, my consulting firm then, the Phoenixkonsult, contracted a project with a client. The project was about yellow clay extraction, with Bicol as the project site. In a small town in Bicol is found yellow clay, a rare material that has various industrial applications as well as aesthetic uses. Incidentally, the area also has some Aeta-related residents as well as marginal peasants.

Being then the board chair of the corporation, or being in a central position to direct the developmental strategies of the firm, I strongly proposed that the project involve the residents in a number of ways.

First of all, in the feasibility study preparation, the residents can be tapped as eco-scanners to identify possible sites where the material was highly concentrated. Also, the same residents will be constituted into a cooperative, properly trained in social entrepreneurship, and invited to be co-investors in the mining project through their cooperative. A third involvement would be to tap those residents who are physically capable enough as human resource for the extraction and production activities.

Such a scheme is what social scientists and development practitioners like myself refer to as tapping ‘social capital’. Mining should not just be regarded as investment capital, but should also consider the vast wealth of social networks—‘social capital’—that can wield tremendous powers of production. Studies in comparative political economy have shown that developmental pursuits that tapped ‘social capital’ ended up more appreciably better than those that failed to do so.

The development experiences of Brazil are particularly instructive. As documented by such social science luminaries as Peter Evans (see Evans’ works on ‘state-society synergy’), those projects in agriculture, irrigation and urban-based infrastructure and housing in Brazil where a state-civil society partnership was consistently used, turned out really good in results. On the other hand, those projects that were largely state-centered or market-driven and insulated from the community networks eventually faltered, as indicated by typical experiences in most Third World economies.

In today’s evolving global context, state-centered development has become ridiculously passé. In this old framework, the state performs the role of a ‘provider state’—giving out everything such as candies and shelter units to helpless people waiting for the ‘Santa Claus’ dole outs. Such a framework had proved to be disastrous in results. Not only did it reinforce a strong dependency syndrome among the people, it also led to vicious poverty instead of eradicating this malaise. It need not be stressed that much money went to the pocket of state officials and contracting firms’ managers through this old framework.

The new framework delimits the state’s role to that of an ‘enabler state’. In this framework, development efforts are properly the tasks of market players, who possess the investment capital, and civil society players, who possess the vast social networks of ‘social capital’. The state then builds the policy environment and strong institutions that can support and sustain various developmental efforts.

I strongly contend for a ‘social capital’ approach to mining. In this approach, the first thing to do is to recognize the institutional capacity building efforts of people who live in the areas of resource extraction. Stewardship agreements must be concurred between market players and community or social enterprises of the folks, with the state serving as a mediator or facilitator. I am very optimistic about the positive results of this scheme, compared to market-driven and state-centered approaches.

You see, when people, through their social enterprise groups, are motivated to co-direct development projects, the people themselves will do so much to zealously guard and monitor the entire project or enterprise venture. The bonus for indigenous peoples is that they have easy access to the spirit world, to the nature beings in the area (called ‘elementals’ by mystics), beings that can also be tapped to guard the project.

Now, go back to the cranky old models (market-driven and state-centered), and remove the indigenous peoples from the scene of a gargantuan development effort. What will you have?

It would be instructive to recall the Celophil and Chico dam projects, both Cordillera-based, that proceeded from the old frameworks. The disastrous offshoots of the projects became the fuel for insurgent groups, largely peopled by the I.P.s, to wage zealously bloody campaigns against the colossal projects.

There is no further reason today for the likes of the Celophil and Chico projects to be repeated. We must have learned lessons from their failures at this juncture. But it seems that those who now wish to revive a mining sector that has been in the doldrums for two (2) decades to go the route of Celophil and Chico.

I wish not to further highlight the folly of any idea today that wishes to pursue development by expelling people like they were deadly toxins. Many advocates of win/lose pursuits are well placed in government even as they dominate the corporate sector. They simply couldn’t see the folly behind their antiquated approaches, blinded as they are by greed.

As a final statement, let me declare that the framework elaborated in this brief paper is not an official policy framework of state. Rather, it is a policy framework that should be discussed among various quarters and social sectors, the state included. The state after all comprises of a plurality of framework trends operating in a vast array of bureaucratic mechanisms. There is no such thing today as a monolithic state with a singular framework dominating the policy environment. Rather, the state is a fluid field for contestation by various interest groups that are all aiming to influence the shaping of the policy environment.

But this I am optimistic about: if given a chance to prosper, a ‘social capital’ framework for mining will sell like very hot cake. I am very sure about this forecast. And may the communications enclaves allow this idea of ‘social capital’ for mining to germinate and percolate, because whether we like it or not this will be the direction of resource extraction in the foreseeable future. Bar it from crystallizing, and the result will be more resentments leading to more vicious insurgencies. Permit it to galvanize, and the whole nation becomes heroic in the eyes of the international community for setting new precedents. So, which option is the better choice?
[Note: The author is a political economist and social development consultant. The paper was delivered in a panel lecture at the Kamayan Forum, Kamayan Restaurant, Manila, 12 noon-2 pm, 19 November, 2004.]

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