95 year old Norma had a strange and heartbreaking routine.
Every night after dinner, she stood up and informed the staff at her Ohio nursing home that she needed to leave. When they asked why, she said she needed to go home to take care of her mother. Her mom, of course, had long since passed away. This is the story of how the creativity of one man helped restore independent living to people suffering from Alzheimer’s.
BANGKOK: Conservationists on Tuesday (Mar 29) hailed the discovery of a new breeding population of tigers in Thailand as a “miraculous” victory for a sub-species nearly wiped out by poaching.
Images of some tigers including six cubs, captured by camera traps in an eastern Thai jungle throughout 2016, confirm the presence of what is only the world’s second known breeding population of the endangered Indochinese tiger.
The only other growing population – the largest in the world with about three dozen tigers – is based in a western forest corridor in Thailand near the border with Myanmar.
“The extraordinary rebound of eastern Thailand’s tigers is nothing short of miraculous,” said John Goodrich, the tiger programme director at Panthera, a wild cat preservation group that backed the survey.
Two Indochinese tigers roam the forest in Eastern Thailand. (Photo: AFP / DNP-FREELAND / PANTHERA)
The camera trap footage, which shows female tigers and their cubs traipsing through the leafy jungle, was captured with help from the anti-trafficking group Freeland and Thai park authorities.
Indochinese tigers, which are generally smaller than their Bengal and Siberian counterparts, once roamed across much of Asia.
But today only an estimated 221 remain, with the vast majority in Thailand and a handful in neighbouring Myanmar.
Aggressive poaching, weak law enforcement and habitat loss has rendered the animals all but extinct in southern China, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, according to scientists.
Tiger farms around the region have also boosted the trafficking trade by propping up demand for tiger parts, which are treasured as talismans and used in traditional medicines popular in China.
Indochinese tigers are generally smaller than their Bengal and Siberian counterparts. (Photo: AFP / DNP-FREELAND / PANTHERA)
Conservationists and park officials attributed Thailand’s success story to a rise in counter-poaching efforts over the past few decades.
But they warned that the breeding populations remained vulnerable and would not thrive without a sustained commitment to busting poachers and taking down the lucrative trafficking trade.
Today only an estimated 221 Indochinese tigers remain. (Photo: AFP / DNP-FREELAND / PANTHERA)
The Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai forest complex, where the latest young cubs were caught on some of the 156 cameras, still hosts a only modest tiger density of 0.63 tigers per 100 square kilometres.
It is a ratio on par with some of the world’s most threatened tiger habitats, according to Freeland, but still means there is a population of at least 23 of the big beasts roaming wild.
“It’s crucial to continue the great progress made by the Thai government to bolster protection for tigers at the frontlines,” said Kraisak Choonhavan, the group’s board chairman.
“As long as the illegal trade in tigers continues, they will need protection.”
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SINGAPORE: “I think it’s safe to say that I have a reputation of not doing weird s**t. I do love mainstream work. I don’t think it’s a dirty word. So I’m not shy, embarrassed or apologising for that at all,” said Gaurav Kripalani, with a laugh.
The 45-year-old artistic director of Singapore Repertory Theatre (SRT) was gamely reacting to a Facebook post directed at him, after it was announced last week that he will take over as the new director of the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA), in charge of three editions from 2018 to 2020.
After the news came out, a Singaporean poet-playwright, Ng Yi-Sheng, had cheekily posted on Facebook to urge him: “Don’t forget to program some weird s**t alongside the crowd-pleasers!”
Speaking to Channel NewsAsia, Kripalani admitted he felt the pressure of his new high-profile gig, which officially begins on May 1.
“It’s a national festival. And there are a lot of people who have different expectations of what it should be. So of course there’s pressure to make sure I deliver a festival that is meaningful and impactful to Singaporeans, but that stays true to what I believe good art should be.”
Indeed, some wonder what SIFA’s new identity will be with him on board.
Under outgoing fest director Ong Keng Sen, the festival was seen as an event to catch often avant-garde, experimental, interdisciplinary productions. His fourth and final edition later this year is no different, with film makers and even a graphic novelist included in the lineup.
Meanwhile, Kripalani is known for producing and presenting shows that could be considered the exact opposite: Popular, mainstream musicals and plays, with the occasional celebrity performer thrown in for good measure, such as Ian McKellen in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s King Lear, Kevin Spacey in Richard III or Kit Chan in Forbidden City, which incidentally will be restaged later this year.
Singapore Repertory Theatre’s Shakespeare In The Park series was a popular crowd-drawer. (Photo: SRT)
Under his leadership, SRT has also made a name for itself with the crowd-drawing outdoor series Shakespeare In The Park and the ambitious international Shakespeare tour-fest collaboration The Bridge Project.
SOUNDING OUT OTHERS
But Kripalani said it’s too early at the moment to discuss in detail what his SIFA will be like, saying he plans to talk to various stakeholders first.
“I’m using the next few months to meet people – the arts community, audiences, international arts community – to find out what excites them about both SIFA in its current form and if it changed, and find out the things that link what artists and audiences both want. That should be the foundation for creating an exciting programme,” he said.
Kripalani added he plans to reach out to arts groups to explore possible collaborations. He will also continue his discussions with Sarah Martin, chief executive officer of Arts House Limited (AHL), which runs the festival, its board members, as well as a new programming team that will assist him.
“There’s no point in me going, ‘these are the six shows I want to do.’ I think it’s very important that I speak to everyone first,” he said.
As for his commitments to SRT, Kripalani will continue to be involved from a strategic planning perspective, with executive director Charlotte Nors assuming the role of managing director and Juliet Chia taking on the role of deputy artistic director.
“My time will be allocated to both proportionally and there’s a hundred per cent transparency on what I will be doing for each company so there won’t be a situation of there being a conflict of interest,” he said.
SHORT BUT IMPACTFUL
One of the challenges he foresees is the very tight schedule the festival team will have, at least for the 2018 edition.
While AHL had sounded him out as a possible candidate for the position five to six months ago, it took a while for him to officially sign on, and eventually get the ball rolling.
“There’s a very tight timeframe for the next festival. We have to be realistic about what’s achievable, so in my head, it will be short but impactful. But a lot of time will be spent on the 2019 and, especially, 2020 edition,” he said.
While he remains coy about the kind of shows he plans to present, there’s one thing he is really keen on having.
“One of the things that Sarah and I were chatting about, that interests us both, is how we can do some things outdoors as well. There needs to be that component,” he said, pointing to how last year’s SIFA edition had put up a production at Gardens By The Bay.
“That brought in a lot of people and had a strong artistic merit. I would love to be doing things like that,” he said.
Outgoing SIFA fest director Ong Keng Sen programmed experimental, edgy works, such as The Incredible Adventures of Border Crossers in 2015. (Photo: Kevin Lee)
Kripalani said he has been fortunate to continue SIFA on the back of Ong’s efforts over the past four editions.
“I take my hat off to him. The festival had lost its way a bit, and then we didn’t have one for a year. I think Keng Sen’s done a terrific job of laying the foundation and building it up again.”
VERY DIFFERENT AESTHETIC
That said, he also added that even though the programmes for future editions have yet to be finalised, it’s safe to say that he will definitely be bringing a “very different aesthetic” to SIFA.
When asked if SRT shows such as the Shakespeare In The Park series or Peter Brook’s Battlefield could be seen as a definitive peg for the type of shows one could expect under his artistic leadership, he agreed.
“Yes, absolutely. I am sure I was hired for my aesthetic and that is definitely my aesthetic. That is definitely going to form the basis of a lot of the programming.”
He added: “But it can’t just be that. There has to be a broad spectrum. When we look at the international aspect of SIFA, that will absolutely shape the type of shows that I would look at. But it has to be married with the Singapore aspect of SIFA, which is what I plan to speak to my peers about, find out what they’re working on, what excites them, what they’d like to do.”
Tuscan architecture combines contemporary and also classic components that make up pure Vintage Europe. The appeal of architecture Tuscan style originates from the typical custom-made crafted all-natural stone. This consists of sedimentary rock, travertine as well as marble. Terra-cotta floor as well as roofing system tiles are commonly made use of to provide the antique feel. In Tuscan architecture, wood light beams are typically refurbished from Tuscan farmhouses.
It has actually taken centuries of human work to develop the Tuscany of popular creativity, that orderly, well-tended landscape of wineries, olive groves and ancient hill villages. But there are still pockets of this fabled Italian area that male has actually not totally subjugated, and the wild hills outside the walled community of Anghiari, at the eastern edge of Tuscany, are among them. Deeply forested, they are the home of foxes, deer, porcupines, boars as well as a spreading of singular stone farmhouses, including one left structure that stood out of a Dallas several. Looking to make a 2nd house, they set about changing it into a 6,000-square-foot vacation home, an odyssey that would certainly take 12 years of preparing, repair and also building.
Originally a 15th-century customizeds station, the straightforward home of 3 degrees over a pet sanctuary had actually been contributed to over the centuries but had not been occupied for more than 100 years when it went on the market in 1994. “A buddy lives nearby in a restored farmhouse,” says among the owners, “as well as during our sees with her we fell for the location. When she phoned call to claim the spoiled property later on was available for sale, we leapt at it.” Included in the sale were greater than 500 venerable olive and chestnut trees on virtually 30 acres straddling a ridge, accompanying compelling views of distant Apennine optimals as well as the Tiber River, which flows southern to Rome.
SINGAPORE: Are drones the future of Singapore’s postal service and do they have the potential to be used to deliver mail across the country?
In September 2015, SingPost successfully tested a mail run from mainland Singapore to Pulau Ubin using a drone, saying it was the first time in the world that a postal service has managed to use an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle for point-to-point recipient-authenticated mail delivery.
More than a year on, SingPost’s head of Post Office Network and Digital Services Dr Bernard Leong gave an update on what the company has learned from the groundbreaking trial.
“At the company level, drone delivery is a potential solution to our manpower challenges,” Dr Leong said in a post on the website of the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) on Thursday (Mar 23).
He noted that Pulau Ubin was not a random destination for the test flight, remembering how SingPost had to recall its oldest postman – then 73 – twice from retirement to deliver about 40 letters a day to the island’s residents. With drone delivery, it would complement the company’s efforts to “upskill” its postmen.
Sharing details of the trial, Dr Leong said the drone deployed to Pulau Ubin flew 2km to a landing zone on the island where a postman waited with a smartphone to authenticate that he was the rightful recipient.
The drone was programmed so that it would only land and allow the intended recipient to collect the package when it received the authentication signal. If the signal is not received within three minutes, the drone would return to the delivery base, Dr Leong added.
The flight path of the SingPost drone trial from mainland to offshore island. (Photo: SingPost)
“Notably, this innovation was borne from our experience in developing a mobile application that allows customers to unlock their POPStation parcel locker with their smartphone,” he added.
WORKING WITH REGULATORS, ECONOMICS OF DRONE DELIVERY
Dr Leong said another key takeaway was the importance of developing the technology hand in hand with regulatory authorities – not just within Singapore but also those of other countries.
The Pulau Ubin drone trial “would not have happened without excellent public-private partnership,” he wrote.
For instance, IMDA’s PIXEL Labs team helped mitigate regulatory challenges on proving the drone’s airworthiness, while SingPost searched for solutions so regulators would be satisfied with the flight’s safety.
“One important hurdle was the need for a secure frequency for the navigation system. This was to enable the drone to travel beyond four kilometers out of the line of visible sight. Had we not been aligned with both aviation and telecommunication regulators concurrently, the project would have failed,” Dr Leong said.
On the cost of the drone, he said it originally cost about S$1,500 with equipment that could pass regulatory requirements. Two months after the flight, Dr Leong said he saw the same drone at half the cost at a conference hosted by Alibaba Cloud.
“Moore’s Law is applying to drones and when drone costs go below S$100, and we have a 5G mobile network, the economics will work out, and this could be within the next three to five years,” he said.
However, the use of drones for mail delivery is not necessarily suitable across Singapore. Dr Leong said: “Every now and then, I am asked at conferences when drone pizza delivery will become a reality. Singapore is a highly dense country and it is not conducive to fly drones within the city itself.
“Within dense cities such as ours, however, cyber security and airworthiness present clear challenges,” he added.
Instead, what could work is an ecosystem of parcel lockers, self-driving cars and drones that are deployed according to their needs. Drones are best deployed to reaching remote locations, such as the offshore islands, said Dr Leong.
What’s clear, he said, is that “progressive regulatory support” for both operators and startups will be critical to accelerate the development and commercialisation of drone delivery.
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YANGON: The notion of starting a “green” business in Myanmar is still an unconventional one in 2017.
Saw Jury Bo Han had to venture overseas to gain the expertise and confidence to try his hand at a solar energy venture, which he launched just a few months ago in Yangon.
Despite the high potential for renewable energy in the country, there are few specialised operators trying to spread solar technology – either to businesses or private citizens.
“We are still in the very early stage because we lack knowledge,” said the general manager of TQSI (Technology, Quality & Sustainable Innovation). “We’re trying to do business while also training people at the same time.”
The showroom of sustainable lighting business Eco-Green Technologies.
Likewise, for the small team behind Eco-Green Technologies, it was Singapore and its advanced energy efficiency that triggered their push to design new lighting solutions for their own fast growing city
“It is still tough. But it’s good for the planet,” said Yin Htwe Thet, the group’s managing director.
After forming four years ago, Eco-Green now has 19 staff, mostly young engineers, and is embarking on trying to change local culture towards quality, sustainable products, in their case innovative LED lighting for use in projects from hotels to shopping malls.
“When we started we had to try really hard to educate our clients and persuade them to adopt these technologies. Many of the owners don’t want to spend much upfront,” said director Chan Myae Aung.
Where awareness and adaptation of green technologies has become more common in many developed nations, Myanmar has unsurprisingly lingered behind. But with Yangon rapidly expanding, opportunities abound for those willing to embrace the future.
Rooftop solar panels in Yangon is still a very new concept.
For TQSI, despite uncertainty about regulations, and a very limited market at present, starting this business was not a big gamble.
“From what I observe we have got a very good future in terms of renewable energy. Solar will play an important role in life,” Saw Jury Bo Han said.
“In the future, it will happen to most big developments, especially big businesses, banks and hospitals.
Eco-Green is also betting on Yangon following similar trends to other major metropolises. The city will also have to deal with the looming threat of climate change and more intense demands for cheap power.
“Energy is going to become very expensive in Myanmar in the future,” Yin Htwe Thet said. “For lighting, nowadays no one will enforce green technology. Right now price is a big disadvantage. But we are a part of this, we are driving it.”
Of course they are not alone; more willing pioneers are driving forward a green agenda. But exactly what that means for Yangon remains uncertain.
And whether those with power will join hands is an even bigger question.
Fast new housing developments still mostly do not include renewable technologies or green design.
‘YOU HAVE THE MONEY, YOU DO IT’
A lack of policy around the so-called green movement remains stifling, according to many working closely with the sector.
Aung Myint from the Renewable Energy Association Myanmar says regardless of the budding efforts by small businesses, their potential is still limited.
“The flow is ready, the people are ready to participate but there’s no policy. This is the bottleneck,” he said. “Technology is no problem but without regulation we can’t do anything.”
Saw Jury Bo Han, conversely, views what his business can do as “contributing something back to Myanmar” in lieu of strong government-driven initiatives.
“Our government is promoting renewable energy but the way they do it is ’you have the money, you do it’,” he said.
The counter argument is a lack of control is allowing unscrupulous or profit-chasing housing developers, for example, to take advantage.
A lack of government policy on green issues means related industries are still small.
There is concern about the word “green” being falsely thrown around as a marketing tool in this emerging market. Without proper standards it is difficult to police.
Lack of incentives, particularly economic ones, also means, for now, many projects are going ahead in Yangon with little consideration to future needs of the city.
“As the drift to cities increases most of the building design is not doing anything to take into account what future buildings should be like,” said David Allan, the founder of Spectrum Sustainable Development Network. His office window view is one of contrasts; a longstanding pagoda and a rising skyline of steel and glass.
“They’re being built for a minimum cost, rather than a minimum operating cost. People don’t understand how to have an energy efficient way forward.”
He agrees that the national government is “keen” on green technologies but is still coming to terms with how to roll out policies in urban areas.
“Cities are a little bit harder for people to get their heads around than the rural environment at present,” he said.
“Nationally, there’s a lot of concern about agricultural productivity but in many ways this is entirely linked to the cities issue. Because agricultural productivity is so low, the migration to cities is higher because people think life is going to be better.
“The new administration is very malleable at the moment and accepting that change is required.”
Care for the local environment is still adversely affecting Yangon’s green spaces.
Some like Jean-Marc Brule from non-government organisation Green Lotus says any type of “green attitude” in Yangon is an improvement on the recent past.
“Nobody, until three years ago, was thinking urban. The argument against green activities is over. Decision makers just need to know it.”
He says the speed in which action is taken needs to increase significantly though, to avoid the same development mistakes made in Jakarta and Bangkok. While Yangon’s liveability is currently eroding, the trend is still reversible, he argues.
“Construction permits are being given faster than anything for a sustainable plan. But maybe the good thing is, the way Yangon is structured, it will make the disaster come quicker. The urgent solution will then be found.”
The green movement, of course, embodies more than just housing and energy. There are diverse voices within Yangon working on ideas to reclaim public space, beautify the riverfront, enhance public transport and empower local communities.
Some of those pushing it will admit some of the vision is utopian, but important to pursue anyway. “This is a question for everyone in the world,” Yin Htwe Thet said.
“We just have to start from day one.”
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MANILA: The Philippines’ environment secretary, Gina Lopez, comes from one of the country’s wealthiest families, with business stakes in media empires, energy and manufacturing. But she herself had mostly stayed away from the limelight, choosing a life of travelling, spirituality and yoga.
When she returned to the Philippines, she became a passionate advocate for the environment using the charity arms of her family’s media company, ABS-CBN, to fund her projects.
That all changed when she was appointed environment secretary under the new Duterte administration and took on some of the country’s biggest businesses, despite little technical education.
Lopez has now threatened to shut down two-thirds of the country’s mining sites and cancel a further 75 mining contracts that were approved by her predecessor – a pipeline of mining investments worth about 1.1 trillion Philippine pesos (US$22 million).
Her announcements shocked the mining community of the fifth most mineral-rich country in the world for gold, nickel, copper and chromite – the Philippines has US$840 billion worth of untapped mineral wealth, according to an estimate by the country’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau.
Many of the companies are now fighting back, appealing both to the president and to the courts.
Members from the pro-mining community watch Philippines’ environment secretary Gina Lopez on TV, booing her. (Photo: Aya Lowe)
A nine-page complaint was filed on Sunday (Mar 19) by the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP), charging Lopez with causing “undue injuries” to the mining industry.
The group lamented that as early as September last year, Lopez had already announced the suspension of about 20 mining firms even before the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ (DENR) mining audit was completed.
COMP said that most, if not all its members, have acquired International Standards Organization (ISO) 140001 certification, indicating that they have passed the highest environmental standards for mining.
There is also a lobby for a congressional committee to reject her nomination as environment secretary. Lopez was recently bypassed by the Commission on Appointments during her first round, only to be re-appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte. She will face the committee again in May when congress resumes.
But despite the enemies she’s made, she said she will continue her mission with confidence, knowing she has the backing of the president, who has referred to her as a “crusader”.
In a press briefing in March, Duterte declared: “You think you can live with it (environmental degradation) because of the 70 billion (pesos) or because they contributed to campaign funds? Not me.”
He was referring to the estimated 70 billion pesos (US$1.39 billion) mining contributes a year in revenue.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE
For Delta Dumay, who comes from a family of farmers, the mining industry has impacted her source of living.
Her family had always benefited from two good yearly harvests – until now. A river runs along the side of her house and it used to provide water for irrigation for her rice fields, but now it’s killing her crops.
According to Dumay, her troubles started when a mining company set up in the mountains above the river. They began to notice heavier siltation in the river, increased flooding during rainy season and more dust during the dry season.
“Of course it really began to affect our farmlands. And there were no fish in our river and we couldn’t catch anything,” she said.
Dumay said she used to be able to harvest 300 sacks of rice each season, but now it’s been reduced to around 100 sacks.
Her town is located in Cantilan, Surigao del Sur in Mindanao, one of the country’s poorest regions, but also its most mineral-rich. There are 23 large-scale mines operating in the area.
One of the agricultural areas affected by siltation in Cantilan, Surigao del Sur, Philippines. (Photo: Aya Lowe)
According to Lopez, the massive destruction of ecosystems in mining tenements – the massive cutting of trees, blasting of mountains, the digging and hauling to extract mineral ores – are to blame for the siltation of rivers, as well as degradation of coastal environments that affect agricultural and fishery production.
“It causes suffering if you are a fisherman or a farmer; it aggravates your quality of life,” she said. “Only 20 per cent of the labour force are people that come from the island. The ones that benefit are the local governments. It’s not a viable economy where some people benefit and everyone suffers. But the most grievous thing there is the fact that the place is beautiful and the continuous mining there is killing the economic potential of the place. It’s crazy.”
Dumay said that while she knows of other communities nearby who receive money from mining companies, there are many who don’t.
“They (the people from the mining company) came and did a test on the water and said there was no evidence we were affected so they didn’t offer compensation,” she said.
Around 95 per cent of large-scale mining companies practice open-pit mining, and Lopez has mostly focused on these large-scale open-pit mines. Mining experts say it is the fastest, safest and most efficient way of extracting mineral ore, but according to Lopez, it causes massive destruction of forest ecosystems.
“The 15 that we closed are in watersheds and I feel that to even consider allowing them to continue mining in the watershed goes against the spirit of the mining law, which says you should not put at risk the lives of the present and future generations in a watershed,” said Lopez.
Miners dig for mineral ore inside a tunnel in Mt Diwata. (Photo: Aya Lowe)
In her presentations, Lopez repeatedly cites the Tampakan Copper-Gold Project in Mindanao. She says forests, watersheds and highly productive agricultural areas the size of 700 football fields will be devastated once proponents of potentially the biggest gold-mining project begin commercial operation.
“That area is the food basket of Mindanao,” Lopez said. “There are rivers and farms in those areas.”
She said miners use dynamite to tear down mountains or dig holes to fast-track the extraction of mineral ore.
Said Jaybee Garbganera of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement: “By the nature of the industry itself, mining is going to introduce permanent changes in the physical landscape and the topography of the Philippines.
“When you start doing mining, your operations are going to cut trees, use water from the river, use the forests which are the same resources of indigenous people.
“An introduction of a mining site in any area in the Philippines will likely impact the local environmental and cultural life of the population. This is different from any continental country like Canada or Australia where they can do mining and the next community would be 100 km away.”
Gold separated from the rock, mined in the Philippines. (Photo: Aya Lowe)
According to Garbganera, the introduction of mining operations in a locality increases the already existing risks of vulnerabilities of that community.
“The Philippines’ climate change and disaster risk reduction laws were passed in 2009, while the laws governing the mining industry were passed in 1995 so all the mining contracts we have right now do not factor in climate change and disaster risk,” he said.
EMOTIONS RATHER THAN FACTS
Lopez has stoked the anger of mining companies and scientists who believe she is addressing the issue with emotions rather than facts and due process.
They include Isidro Alcantara, CEO of publicly listed Marcventure Holdings, whose mine is currently being threatened with closure despite holding an ISO certification which confirms that the mine’s environment management systems are compliant with international standards.
“Perfection cannot be made the enemy of good,” he said. “When you disturb the earth, it will never be perfect; you will restore it 70 to 80 per cent but a lot of good would have come out of disturbing the earth; a lot of jobs, a lot of livelihoods including livelihoods that would be sustainable and that can be a catalyst for development, economic and social.”
Dr Carlo Arcila of the National Institute of Geological Sciences said differentiation needs to be made between the different types of mining in the country and that responsible mining can and does exist where minimal damage is done to the environment.
It’s not just the mining companies who are up in arms over her decision. Communities located near mining sites are worried about job and income losses if the mines are shut, and they have also been protesting in front of the DENR office.
Junarlo Hunahunan owns an iPhone, motorbike and flat screen TV. This might seem normal for a 22-year-old, but he is from a small indigenous community in the remote mountains of Surigao del Sur, which until recently was only accessible via a six-hour hike from the nearest town of Pantukan.
Junarlo Hunahunan’s renovated house in the indigenous community of Pantukan. (Photo: Aya Lowe)
In 2007, two mining companies set up nearby. He, along with his three siblings have been working with one of the companies for two years.
They used to live in a basic nipa or straw hut, surviving off the meagre incomes of their crops but from the money they earned they have been able to build a two-storey house, send their siblings to school and buy all the things they enjoy.
“Before, it was really hard. We didn’t have money. We couldn’t send our siblings to school or have pocket money for them,” says Junarlo.
It’s not only his household that’s seen a big change. The community of around 1,000 has gone from having no roads, electricity or health centres to having a gym, school and ambulance.
Mining companies are expected to give 1 per cent of their total income to the indigenous communities whose land they are operating on. Last year, Pantukan and six other communities received almost US$60,000 from just one company alone.
According to the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, Lopez’s order puts at risk around 67,000 jobs and at least 1.2 million people who depend on mining for their livelihood.
Lopez has said mining has failed to improve the lives of the people, and that people from Surigao del Sur remain poor despite mining. But Alfred Araneta, vice mayor of Carrascal, a town in Surigao del Sur disagrees.
He said taxes and royalties from mining companies have boosted the town’s income more than 55 times over a 10-year period.
Mining companies have to pay business and royalty taxes as well as a percentage of every tonne of ore taken out of the country to the local government. With that money, they’ve improved government buildings such as hospitals and schools and infrastructure.
“We are really dependent on the taxes we collect from the mining industry,” Araneta said. “If they do close down, Carrascal will go back again to what we were in 2006. That is what we are afraid of.”
A hospital in Carrascal that has been built from funds giving by mining companies. (Photo: Aya Lowe)
In 2006, Carrascal was a poor provincial town made up mostly of farmers and fishermen. Now, most of the people in town work either directly or indirectly for the mining companies and the number of registered businesses has shot up from 74 to nearly 400.
Lopez insists that she can replace these jobs by creating centres of eco-tourism in place of mining sites. She asked for the communities to give her two years to get the people out of poverty from various ecotourism activities.
“I just feel, in a country that is beautiful, the better approach is to keep the country beautiful for the benefit of anyone living there and my complaint with the mining law and mining operations is that you ravage what is there and you take out the wealth and leave them poor and give them tidbit scholarships and they’re totally dependent on you instead of developing the potential of the area to generate quality of life,” said Lopez.
But communities remain sceptical of this proposition, worried about the viability of bringing in enough tourists into these remote areas where infrastructure remains a big problem.
“If an eco-tourism project was to be implemented, it will take how many months – even a year, before it can start operations. How can we sustain those families that are eating right now and having their children studying?” said Araneta.
Dindo Manhit, managing director of Stratbase, argued that eco-tourism can’t exist in many mining areas. He cited mining in Palawan, a tourist hotspot located in the west of the Philippines as an example.
“There is mining in Palawan; there is also eco-tourism in Palawan. Why don’t we send tourists to those mining areas? Because it’s too rural and there’s lots of mosquitoes, lots of malaria,” he said.
Many also question why Lopez in her crusade has ignored the small-scale miners. They make up 60 per cent of the total gold production, yet for the most part continue to flourish with little regulation from the main government.
There are around 400,000 small-scale miners operating in 40 mineral-rich provinces nationwide, building tunnels deep into mountainsides in search of their “jackpot” day.
It has provided wealth for the miners: Signs of prosperity dot the gold-rush town Diawata, where children who finish top of their class even get rewarded with a 15g pure gold medal worth around P19,500 or US$388.
But the gold rush doesn’t necessarily translate into prosperity for the government or environment.
Miners inside a small scale mine in Diwalwal dig for gold. (Photo: Aya Lowe)
According to Dr Carlo Arcilla of the National Institute of Geological Science, most of the small-scale mining is illegal and unregulated and certain practices are detrimental to the environment. According to him, practices such as using mercury when mining for gold is not only bad for the environment but for the miners as well.
“When you mine the gold content, it’s in the parts per million, so you have to grind very fine to get the gold out,” he said. “Many miners use mercury because mercury dissolves the gold. The problem is that the river will flow to the ocean – and the mercury, once it gets into the ocean, is poisonous by itself and it becomes integrated in the food chain and becomes metal mercury – one of the most poisonous substances known to human kind.”
In an attempt to stop this, in 2015, the department of environment issued new policies and guidelines for these mines to adhere to. Cooperatives were formed to allow for more regulation of mines.
Jose Anayo, the head of a mining cooperative in Compostela Valley said small-scale mining permits were issued by the provincial government. He added that there are regular check-ups on the mines for labour and environmental safety practices, but there are still a lot of mines that remain unregulated.
“Our cooperative consists of around 70 tunnels but that’s only from the registered tunnels, which make up only a small percentage of the total network of small-scale mines,” he said.
MINING CONTRIBUTION INSUFFICIENT: LOPEZ
Lopez has also argued that mining contribution to the Philippines is not enough to cover for the economic loss to the environment. Last year, mining’s contribution in terms of GDP was a mere 0.9 per cent. Mining export receipts were pegged at US$2.8 billion, or only 4.8 per cent of total exports, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).
According to Credit Suisse, the mining ban could shave 0.2 per cent off the Philippines’ economic growth and hurt foreign investors’ sentiments. It could also reduce exports by around 2 per cent.
Speaking to Channel NewsAsia, Lopez acknowledged that she was stepping on “very big business interests and political interests”.
“But at the end of the day, I’m doing what the government has mandated for me to do – which is to take care of the people and make sure the land and resources of the area can benefit the people living here.”