Oftentimes, local communities feel powerless in the decision-making on issues that matter most to them. It is time to give them back the power they truly deserve and put them at the center of decision-making of these issues.
Environmentally critical projects such as mining remain a controversial and divisive issue in mineral-rich communities all over the world. Arguably, mining projects bring jobs, revenues to local governments, cash income, and various development projects, such as electrification, paved roads, schools with free or subsidized education, chapels, water system, and other livelihood programs. In many instances, these benefits are very enticing and attractive to locals.
However, scientific studies and objective data on mining operations in various communities have found out that mining also brings adverse effects and negative impacts on 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.
Environmental advocacy campaigns of both pro- and anti-mining communicate these mining benefits and costs to the locals to convince them either to accept the mining project or join the struggle against the mining project. Given these two scenarios, how do locals decide when a mining project is presented in their community? How do they participate in the decision-making that impact on their economic, political and socio-cultural standing? What influences their participation in decision-making and their decision?
The locals of Rapu-Rapu Island, Albay in the Philippines were in that situation in 2001 when a mining project was seeking social acceptability from the local communities. This study revisited their decision and explained why they decided that way. It also took into account the crucial physical, political, economic, and sociocultural contexts of the decision-making of the locals.
Since the Brundtland Report of 1987 and the Rio Summit of 1992 on environment and development, “sustainable development” has become the buzzword and rhetoric of development planning and intervention. The basic principle of sustainable development is meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising those of the future generation, thus improving people’s quality of life. The environment is now given a greater role, consideration, and attention in the development paradigm.
Countries have aligned their development plans with the sustainable development framework. The Philippines is no exception. In fact, the Philippine Agenda 21 (PA 21), the blueprint guide for sustainable development which resulted from the Summit, articulates this premise, "envisions a better quality of life for all Filipinos through the development of a just, moral, creative, spiritual, economically vibrant, caring, diverse yet cohesive society characterized by appropriate productivity, participatory and democratic processes, and living in harmony and within the limits of the carrying capacity of nature and the integrity of creation."
PA 21 had an eminent influence on the national and local policymaking and policy direction initiatives which deal with the conservation and preservation of the environment and country’s quest toward sustainable development. As concrete steps toward that quest, several landmark legislations were enacted into laws such as the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992, Mining Act of 1995, and Clean Air Act of 1999.
Local communities know their situation well. It is a matter of including them in the decision-making with informed and meaningful participation.