A Conflict Analysis of Rapu-Rapu Mining Issues

I received an email from Fr. Casey Archie, SX (Xavierian Missionaries), Coordinator of the Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Commission (JPICC) of the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP) on October 29, 2007 informing me about the latest fish kill in Rapu-Rapu Island, Albay, Philippines. I got to know Fr. Archie, an active and known anti-mining advocate in the Philippines, over the internet when he read my articles online and emailed me asking for more information about my engagement in Rapu-Rapu mining issues.

It was in 2000 when I came to know the island of Rapu-Rapu. At the height of advocacy campaigns of anti-mining groups in Rapu-Rapu in 2000, I was working with the Center for Community Development (CCD) of the Ateneo de Naga University which supported the anti-mining campaign in Rapu-Rapu. I was involved in the setting of advocacy agenda and activities of Sagip-Isla, Sagip-Kapwa, a people’s organization composed of anti-mining locals of Rapu-Rapu. The advocacy campaign was designed to deny Lafayette Philippines, Inc. (LPI), an Australian mining company, of the crucial and all-important Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) which could prevent the planned mining operations of LPI. An ECC would be issued to LPI if its mining project became socially-acceptable with the locals. In 2001, LPI received an ECC for its mining project in Rapu-Rapu.

Fr. Archie was right about the incident of fish kill. On October 29, 2007, residents of barangay Poblacion in the island of Rapu-Rapu, Albay saw around 15 to 20 kilograms of dead fish scattered near the shoreline of this barangay, about 10 kilometers from the mining site of LPI.[1] It was like a replay of what had happened two years ago in the same island.

Two years ago, on October 11 and 31, 2005, mine tailings or wastewater from ore processing of LPI spilled to the creeks and into the sea, directly killing fish, shrimps and crustaceans in the immediate and surrounding fishing areas, thus affecting the livelihood of local communities in Rapu-Rapu and neighboring towns and provinces in Bicol region. It was found out that the spillages had high level of cyanide. On November 7, 2005, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), a State’s agency, suspended LPI’s operations until investigation and appropriate measures would be implemented.

Anti-mining groups composed mostly of civil society groups which included the local Catholic Church, non-government organizations (NGOs) and local people’s organizations (POs) revived and reiterated their call to revoke the mining permit of LPI. What they feared in the beginning of the mining project had come to reality, two times already. Probably, the spillage incidents were not enough bases and reasons for the State to revoke the mining permit; not enough if the State is located comfortably in the capital more than 600 kilometers away from the island and spillages.

Generally, I am going to analyze and reflect on the conflict between LPI and State, on one side, and on the other side, the anti-mining groups regarding the mining operations being conducted in Rapu-Rapu Island. In particular, I will focus on the spillage incidents and how they impacted on the dynamics of conflict. It is argued that the conflict and spillage incidents are exacerbated by the State’s resolve to revive the moribund mining industry by foreign investments. The data of the paper is informed by newspaper reports and the 7-month fieldwork conducted by the researcher in 2004 and 2005.

State’s actions on spillage incidents

The spillage incidents prompted an investigation by the DENR which showed that the discharge of cyanide did not meet the standards set by Anti-Pollution Laws and recommended improvement in the tailings pump and pond and measures to ensure effluent output or wastewater from the mine would meet the standards set by law. As a result, the DENR imposed the maximum 10.7 million pesos in fines and penalties on LPI.

The anti-mining groups were not satisfied with and did not trust the findings and recommendations of the investigation. Sharing their sentiments were some Catholic bishops who wanted to stop the mining operations in Rapu-Rapu Island.

To appease the growing confusion and question on what really happened in Rapu-Rapu Island, President Gloria Arroyo issued Administrative Order (AO) 145 which created the Rapu-Rapu fact-finding commission headed by a Catholic bishop on March 10, 2006. The commission released its comprehensive report on May 19, 2006 with its findings and recommendations. Major of which was to cancel the mining permit of LPI. However, the State did not heed the commission’s recommendation. Instead, on June 11, 2006, the DENR gave LPI a three-stage 30-day test run of its implemented measures and its soundness to operate again. After that, another 60-day test run was granted to LPI for its limited operations.

On February 8, 2007, the DENR allowed full resumption of mining operations of LPI in Rapu-Rapu Island to the dismay of the anti-mining groups.

Applying a conflict model of analysis (C.R. SIPABIO)

To have an understanding of the conflict in Rapu-Rapu Island, I make use of conflict analysis model known as Context, Relationship, Sources, Issues, Parties, Attitudes/Feelings, Behaviors, Intervention, Outcomes (C.R. SIPABIO) by Amr Abdalla, et. al. (2002).

Contextual factors (geography, economic, religion)

Endowed with rich mineral deposits in a 5,589-hectare land, Rapu-Rapu Island is located 350 kilometers southeast of Manila. The rich mineral deposits are what attracted LPI to invest heavily in the island. However, the topography of the island is dominated by rolling hills and mountains with steep slopes and dotted by plains along the shoreline for settlements. These characteristics, being a small island with fragile ecosystem, distant from the city and coverage of media, and of rolling hills and mountains, are the contentions of the anti-mining groups to disallow mining which would disturb ecosystem and pose threats to the marine life of the island.

In economic terms, the island is part of relatively poor 4th-class municipality. Its means of livelihood for the islanders is fishing and farming. Mining operations which require vast tract of land and laborers have displaced many farmers from their field and fishers to work in the mine. Regular access to cash income has attracted these farmers and fishers to abandon their previous livelihood. Many farmers and fishers though have expressed their apprehension and concern of the potential effects of mining on their land, sea and the environment as a whole from which they source their living. For these farmers and fishers, their security is tied with the state of environment on which they rely their living.

Religion plays a role in the conflict. Majority of the population of Rapu-Rapu are Catholics that make them perhaps identify with the struggle and cause of the church. This prompted the local Catholic church to actively participate in the public hearings about mining issues in behalf of the parishioners. It became a moral obligation of the local Catholic church to act in behalf of the locals when they were faced with dilemma such as this. Besides, the only organized group of people in the island is the Catholics through their church.

Relationship factors (power, patterns, bond)

With money and resources invested in the island, the mining company wanted to show that it meant business on its mining operations. It enticed the locals and local government units with jobs, infrastructure projects, revenues, and social services previously unimagined. Clearly, LPI was acting behind the power of its money and resources. However, unable to compete with the power of resources and money, a number of farmers and fishers and the local Catholic church were on the moral high ground, as it were, to oppose the mining operations since they believed that mining would bring no good to the island in the long run.

Having identified the two sides of the conflict, it became apparent their patterns of behavior to further their opposing stands. LPI always invoked the mining permit that the government had issued to them. It reminded the anti-mining groups that it underwent rigorous processes and social acceptability required by law before it was granted the permit. It also boasted some of the completed and improved social services delivery, infrastructure and utility projects which the anti-mining groups could not possibly give to the islanders. On the other hand, the anti-mining groups never ceased to call for the cancellation of the mining permit of LPI through mass protests, press releases, fora and symposia in various schools and universities around the country. The spillages aided and bolstered the cause of the anti-mining groups and these incidents were presented as telling proofs and logical reasons to stop the mining operations in the island.

The bond that ties the two sides (LPI and anti-mining groups) is the island and their goal and view of it. LPI wanted to exploit the mineral resources of the island while the local church and its parishioners wanted to protect and save the island from the exploitation of LPI. Many of the anti-mining group members particularly the elders have established a strong attachment to the island, and they see the mining operations as threat to this attachment. LPI has hired some locals to work for the mine. These locals, in turn, become supporters of the mining operations. Many of the anti-mining group members benefit from the projects of LPI and they even have relatives and friends working in the mine. In an island like Rapu-Rapu, things become small and everyone is almost connected to everyone by either affinity or consanguinity.


The strong attachment to the island of the local church and its parishioners, anti-mining groups’ persistent calls for the stoppage of mining operations to save the island, insecurity of the locals on their livelihood and resources, LPI’s decisiveness to continue the mining operations by continued “buying” of locals’ support with its vast and deep financial resources, and government’s stubbornness to attract and retain foreign investments in the country have contributed to the conflict as sources of it.


As mentioned earlier, the main issue stems from the divergent goal and view of LPI and anti-mining groups on the island. Again, LPI is bent on exploiting and extracting the mineral deposits of the island while the anti-mining groups are determined to protect the island from extractive and destructive activities such as mining. Another issue is how LPI lured other locals to support mining by the use of charming promises and immediate benefits of the mining project such as, jobs, social services, infrastructures, and access to cash income.


The primary parties that have direct interests in the conflict would be LPI and the anti-mining groups. Those that have indirect interests would be the mining workers and their families, the State and its DENR, local government units, and other locals of the island. The tertiary parties that have distant interests would be the environmentalist groups and business groups represented by Chamber of Mines of the Philippines.


Both sides (LPI and anti-mining groups) exhibited distrust, bitterness and disdain towards each other especially from the anti-mining groups. This probably had something to do with frustration-aggression theory which basically proposes that “the greater the frustration, the greater the quantity of aggression against the source of frustration” (Gurr, 1970, 9). Being goal-oriented, the two sides have continued to frustrate and block each other from achieving their goals. Although the situation did not erupt into violence, but when LPI started to operate, it hired security guards not coming from the locals but from outside the island. LPI must have figured out that to depend its security on the locals posed a greater risk than having no guards at all. This situation was interpreted by the anti-mining groups as distrust of LPI on the locals’ ability to perform their assignment. However, when LPI implemented various projects for the communities, the anti-mining groups treated these projects as bribes and insincere gestures. When the unfortunate spillage incidents occurred, there was a growing disdain and bitterness among locals particularly the anti-mining groups towards the culprit, LPI. For a time, the incident deprived them of income from the sea and made them insecure of their basic human need of food.


There was a sort of conflict spiral model right after the spillages. The anti-mining groups sent press releases to the media to inform the public of what really happened. LPI tried to downplay the extent and reach of the anti-mining press releases by issuing counter-press releases emphasizing that things were under control and the incident was limited and contained to certain small areas only. LPI even accused the anti-mining groups of sabotaging their desire for truth by releasing to the public and media “unscientific” investigations of the incidents. The anti-mining groups however pressed for an independent investigation of the incident to pin LPI of its culpability and negligence and project LPI and its mining operations as environmental disaster to Rapu-Rapu.


The DENR as the state’s line agency tasked to oversee and regulate mining activities in the Philippines did commission an investigation by a third party to get to the bottom of the incidents. However, the anti-mining groups and some sectors of society doubted the credibility and objectivity of the investigation. This caused the President to issue an administrative order creating a presidential fact-finding commission chaired by a Catholic bishop to look into the incidents. Both sides (LPI and anti-mining groups) were amenable to the presidential fact-finding commission as they cooperated on its proceedings.


The findings and recommendations of the third party investigation and presidential fact-finding commission were given little regard by the State that created it. The DENR slapped LPI 10.7 million pesos in penalties and fines due to obvious violations of environmental laws. Even though the presidential commission recommended the permanent closure of the mining operations, the State through the DENR granted instead LPI to proceed with its full resumption of mining operations after 16 months of the spillage incidents.

Despite the two spillage incidents in Rapu-Rapu and growing anti-mining sentiments, the State does not simply back down on its resolve of encouraging more mining investments in the country, much less revoking an existing mining investment like the Rapu-Rapu mining project. The order of full resumption of mining operations reverts back the anti-mining advocacy pushed by various civil society groups to start anew. For these civil society groups, had the State listened to their arguments and protests, the spillages would have been avoided. Because the State allows the mining operations again, these groups will press their advocacy more. Thus, the conflict continues.

My reflection on the conflict

A number of reflections could be gleaned from the conflict particularly in the context of state-civil society dynamics. First, mining issues are divisive. I saw how a once-sleepy island could be awakened by the disquieting conflict between the pro-mining groups led by local government’s leaders and anti-mining groups which tried to influence the minds and hearts of the locals. Clans, friends and communities took differing positions on the mining issues.

Second, national and local governments favor mining companies to invest in their areas of jurisdiction to further their revenues and economic activities. Government’s leaders want to keep the status quo with mining operations which employ many locals. They are not really pro-mining. They only favor mining because of what it can bring to their areas of jurisdiction. These are the consequential benefits of mining such as infrastructures, social services, economic gains, which will be difficult to reject by a sleepy town or barangay. I experienced how difficult it was to deal with a local government’s leader that had endorsed a mining project to do research on his jurisdiction. On the first day of my fieldwork, I was explicitly told not to stay in a mining area by a barangay chief during the courtesy call. The barangay chief thought that I was an organizer of labor unions or anti-mining groups, and so he feared my presence or any member of civil society groups in the area.

Third, the clash on mining issues between LPI and the State, on one side, and civil society groups, on the opposing side, is characterized by the clash of development models that each side advocates. LPI and the State follow the economic development model which treats investments, revenues, infrastructures, and other economic factors as premium indicators of development. Conversely, civil society groups adopt the sustainable development model which puts the environment in the mainstream development discourse.

Fourth, the State remains stubborn on its decision to open the mining industry to foreign investments and keep those investments in the country. The two spillage incidents in Rapu-Rapu would not deter the State to continue defending the interest of mining companies with which it considers its own. The investigation of a commission created, initiated and called by the State is only a show of accommodation of the demand of the civil society groups to have the spillage incidents investigated. In the end, the recommendations of the investigating commission which included the revocation of the mining permit of LPI were ignored by the State.


The conflict on Rapu-Rapu mining issues between LPI and the State, on one side, and the anti-mining groups composed of civil society groups remains unsettled, especially with a new report of spillage incident. The two spillage incidents have unearthed a greater threat to environment – State’s ineptness to use of power and resources. Despite the clear violations of environmental laws, LPI’s apparent disregard of the island’s fragile ecosystem, and the persistent calls for the cancellation of mining permit from the commission, various NGOs, POs, and civil society groups, the State simply slapped LPI with fines and penalties and ordered it to resume its full operations as if little and very minor things had happened. The continued disregard of the State to the appeal and demand of civil society groups to scrap the mining permit of LPI in Rapu-Rapu may mean more emails from Fr. Archie and other anti-mining advocates, stronger advocacy campaigns, and hopefully not, more spillage incidents.

If the State remains to be the most powerful entity that can enforce environmental laws and monopoly of official decision-making, how to engage and influence this kind of State on environmental and participatory governance will be a major challenge for development and peace workers like us.


Abdalla, Amr. et. al. 2002. Say Peace: Conflict Resolution Training Manual for Muslim
Communities. Virginia, USA: The Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences.

Gurr, Ted. (1970). Why Men Rebel. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

http://external.adnu.edu.ph/Centers/CCD/rapu-rapu/rapu-rapu01.html. Date accessed 21
December 2007.

http://www.mgb5.net/3RD-party.htm. Date accessed 22 December 2007.

http://www.mgb.gov.ph/miningissues/rapurapu/issue_rapurapu.htm. Date accessed 27
December 2007.

[1] See http://www.manilatimes.net/national/2007/oct/30/yehey/prov/20071030pro10.html for the news report on the fishkill.

No comments: