COVID-19 Watch Features Spotlight

Parasite capitalism: Economic aggression amid health crisis

By Gabriel Dolot and Joaquin Gonzales IV

The pandemic affects all but more so the marginalized. In the Philippines alone, 11 million workers are at risk of losing their livelihood according to IBON an independent research think tank. The actions were taken by companies to ensure economic self-stability adversely affect the marginalized in the localities they operate in.

Mining Aggression in Nueva Vizcaya and Eastern Samar 

Mining continues to be an active industry amid the quarantine measures imposed by the national government where only essential services such as executive governance, healthcare, provision of clean water, food and other essential goods, basic sanitation, communication, transportation, Fire and police protection, and maintenance of utilities are allowed to operate during this pandemic.

Last April 6, fuel tankers heading to OceanaGold mining site in Barangay Didipio, Kasibu town, Nueva Vizcaya were blocked by 29 community leaders and members of peasant groups. This led to their dispersal by the provincial and municipal police forces. The office of the president recently allowed the entry of 16,600 gallons of fuel to the mining site last January.

The mining industry provides an opportunity for investors because apparently gold has become a high-value commodity amid the pandemic, experts say. Companies and investors are purchasing gold as a way to address their losses amid the economic low caused by the pandemic and could be utilized for boosting profit and investments after the pandemic. The spot price of Gold has hit over 10% and in mid-April, hit $1,725 which is one of its highest in over a decade.

In 2019, the Nueva Vizcaya provincial government issued a restraining order against OceanaGold for environmental, socioeconomic, and human rights violations. In addition, their operations were suspended in October 2019 due to the expiration of their Financial Technical Assistance Agreement  (FTAA) and its renewal is still pending up to this day.

“We appeal to President Duterte not to renew the FTAA because of the mining operation’s terrible impact on the environment.” A statement by Julie Simongo,  barangay official.

In 2017, OceanaGold Phils. is one of the mining companies that the late Gina Lopez, former environment secretary, ordered to suspend their environment certificate. In addition, a 2018 study by Mining Watch Canada along with the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a multi-issue research center that works on peace, justice, and the environment, shows a detailed document on the legal violations that OceanaGold has committed throughout its years of operation in Nueva Vizcaya in which could legally prompt its shutdown.

Homonhon Island, Eastern Samar, The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) allowed the docking of MV VW Peace, a Chinese manned vessel to take a shipment of Chromite from Techiron Resources, Inc on April 11.

Initially, the DENR suspended the Mineral Ore Export Permit (MOP) of Techiron Resources, Inc in accordance with the provincial directive last March 22, imposing the general community quarantine where local agencies have the right to deny the entry of vessels attempting to dock through the coastlines. The Mines and Geosciences Bureau  (MGB) Director Wilfredo Moncano justified the action taken by the government saying that it could be a way to “reduce economic damage.” In addition, the Inter-agency Task Force said that “The policy on the unhampered flow of cargoes is a nationwide policy that must be strictly followed in all LGUs nationwide following the directive of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on 19 March 2020.”

The residents however, expressed their dismay over the decision made by the DENR. Barangay officials and other residents convened for a meeting on April 14 to discuss the matter where a joint resolution by the eight barangays was created stating their opposition towards the presence of the foreign cargo ship and that it is a health risk to the locals in the community during this pandemic.

Eastern Samar Governor led the plea to stop the foreign vessel from loading Chromite from the island for humanitarian reasons and that this is a call for concern especially to his constituents.  Eastern Visayas recorded its first case of Covid-19 on March 23 and has since been ordered to deny foreign migration into the province.

Techiron Resources, Inc was also one of the companies which were included in the list of suspension of their environment certificate in 2017 which was ordered by then, environment secretary, Gina Lopez.

Bulacan Farmers Harassed by Land Grabber

Norzagaray, Bulacan, Land grabber hired goons to cut down banana plantations in Sitio Compra last April 18 according to NNARA- Youth. For the farmers, this is their main source of livelihood which is already in jeopardy because they were forced to stop selling in markets due to the ECQ. However, they were able to sell their products online but this attack has made a huge blow on their livelihood once again.

The company Royal Mollucan plans to convert the agricultural land to an exclusive subdivision. Since 2005, the farmers have been harassed to the point that their houses were demolished, barricaded, or burnt, personal belongings were stolen or destroyed as well as crops. According to Jovita Torres, leader of SAMA-SAMA which is a militant group, the demolition team could not provide any proof such as a court order to justify the demolition of 12 homes on October 25, 2019.

The farmers have resided and farmed in those lands since the ’50s and the Royal Mollucan bought the land in 2005 and asked to be exempted from the land reform.

Proliferation of Illegal Logging activities in MIMAROPA

On March 16, on the second day of the implementation of the Metro Manila community quarantine, President Duterte declared a Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine (ECQ). This took effect on March 17. It was scheduled to end on April 12 but was extended until April 30.

This quarantine also applies to region IV-B or MIMAROPA which comprises the islands of Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon, and Palawan which are geographically separated from the mainland Luzon. Under the ECQ, the movement of the people is heavily restricted. They are restricted to their homes and they can only go outside to buy basic necessities such as food and medicine. Government workers in the executive branch were ordered to work from home and maintain skeleton force to respond to essential and urgent services.

Despite the ECQ being in effect in MIMAROPA, illegal logging which poses a serious threat to biodiversity and rural livelihoods continues in the region. MIMAROPA had the highest rate of forest loss between 2000 and 2012, accounting for 42 percent of all forest loss in the Philippines during the period.

On March 16, The Forest Product Monitoring Station (FPMS) of the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) in Taytay, Palawan recovered 10 sacks of charcoal of mangrove species, 10 sacks of charcoal of forest tree species. And on March 22, the Monitoring and Enforcement Section of the CENRO in Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro confiscated 880.28 board feet of Amugis, Lauan, and Banuyo which are premium species of trees.

Meanwhile, in other parts of MIMAROPA, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in MIMAROPA has also confiscated abandoned lumbers which were believed to be illegally cut. DENR employees in Sibuyan, Romblon, confiscated on March 23 and March 24, 266 board ft of Apitong lumber. The team had also confiscated abandoned 120 board ft of red Lauan two days later.

The situation has seemingly been advantageous to illegal loggers. DENR MIMAROPA has organized alternative working arrangements. However, DENR MIMAROPA regional executive director Henry Adornado said that while most of the DENR employees are at home, this does not stop them from being on the lookout on anyone violating nature.

“We know that illegal loggers would take advantage of the situation so we strengthen our monitoring and enforcement teams through the LGUs and communities to prevent them (violators) from succeeding in their unlawful activities,” he added.

A concerned citizen had informed the in CENRO Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro on the abandoned lumber, while the CENRO in Taytay, Palawan was informed of the illegal activities through social media. Adornado thanked the communities for keeping a watchful eye on the environment. “Defending nature is a daunting task, especially during these times. That is why we laud our personnel in the field for doing their job in the midst of this ECQ. We are also grateful knowing that as we all grapple with this dreaded disease, the public remains our constant partner in protecting our environment and natural resources,” he said

Reopening of POGO’s and Malls after Lockdown  

Gov’t partially reopens Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator. (POGOs) amid quarantine. They said that POGOs can somehow address the economic effects of the pandemic through its revenues. Issues surrounding POGOs such as the P27 billion tax liabilities remain uncollected from the POGO industry, sex trafficking, foreign labor, and money laundering are being considered by lawmakers who are against the partial reopening of POGOs. The government defended its decision by stating that POGOs are under the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry because BPOs are allowed to operate however, BPO firms have spoken up stating that POGOs are not part of the according to Rey Untal, president of the IT-Business Process Association of the Philippines (IBPAP), in a statement.

Regarding the revenues supposedly brought in by POGOs, POGOs are not qualified for tax perks according to Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) Director General Charito Plaza. PEZA does not accept offshore gambling or firms with direct involvement in betting.

Along with the partial reopening of POGOs, the gradual reopening of malls has also opened to ease the economic damage caused by the pandemic. Presidential Adviser on Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion said that the gradual opening of malls shall be applied with strict social distancing and other health measures. Malls have been open during the lockdown however, only groceries and pharmacies were allowed to operate because these are part of the food & beverage and medical industries which are in fact essential industries.

Growth of the Troll Industry in the Philippines

Within the three weeks of Enhanced Community Quarantine in Luzon, trolls have proliferated social media. Last April 9, Twitter suspended hundreds of accounts that supported and defended President Rodrigo Duterte’s Covid-19 response. These accounts were said to have violated twitter’s manipulation and spam policies. These accounts were identified as trolls because they had the same content across multiple accounts, creating multiple or duplicate accounts, and a large number of sent but unsolicited mentions or replies.

Troll Farms are paid users to promote their clients or attack the clients opposing party. Their clients are mostly politicians who use them to create noise regarding their name in social media. A documentary in 2019 where a former leader of a troll army revealed that most of their clients are politicians and that they use 200 fake accounts to boost their clients and they get paid 30,000 to 70,000 Pesos a month.

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