MANILA, Philippines – Is Caraga, where most mining sites are located, the poorest region in the country?
If you would ask Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) chief Regina Paz “Gina” Lopez, she’d say that the region — composed of the provinces of Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Dinagat Islands, Surigao del Norte, and Surigao del Sur — is indeed the most impoverished. Moreover, she suggests that poverty is directly correlated to the presence of mining operations.
During the continuation of the Commission on Appointment’s hearing on her confirmation on Thursday, March 9, the DENR secretary lamented that despite its being “the mining capital of the country,” Caraga remains a low-income region.
“Look at Caraga, Caraga is the mining capital of the country. There are 26 mining operations in Caraga. If mining is so good, why is Caraga the poorest region in the country?”
But Sen. Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri during the hearing countered the DENR’s chief with data that the lawmaker said he had obtained from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).
He pointed out to Lopez that “all the areas you’re shutting down are not in the top ten or top 20 even poorest provinces in terms of poverty incidence.”
“Maybe you want to do a bit of research because I’m a stickler for numbers and I got in touch with the PSA,” Zubiri said.
The senator said that based on PSA figures as of 2015, the latest data so far, Caraga wasn’t the nation’s most impoverished region.
“I’d like to correct that Caraga is not the poorest regions of Mindanao. It’s actually one of the fastest growing regions in Mindanao,” said Zubiri.
Beyond qualifying the level of economic development in mining regions, Zubiri expressed concern that Lopez equating mining with poverty, and her using that to justify the closure of mines, could jeopardize hundreds of thousands of jobs, all over questionable premise.
Zubiri said that in other mining areas outside of Caraga, poor families did not compose the majority of the population.
“And if I look at other areas with mining, Compostela Valley has 29 percent poverty which is number 36 in the list. And Davao del Norte is 27 percent poverty incidence per family, a 39 in the list,” the senator said.
“And if we go on, Benguet, which surprisingly, is next to the NCR at number 79 in the list of poverty incidence with only 6.4 percent of their families are in poverty,” said Zubiri. “And that is heavily mined, that area in Benguet has a lot of mines, both small-scale and large-scale.”
He said that Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur, and Agusan del Norte “are not in the top 20 in terms of poverty incidences.”
“Just for the record, Surigao del Norte is number 25 in that list with only 33 percent of their population have poverty as compared to the highest Lanao del Sur at 70 percent and Sulu at 61 percent,” Zubiri said.
Surigao del Sur is number 27 on the list list, with a 32.8 percent poverty ranking, while Agusan Del Norte is number 31 with 31 percent of families in the province experiencing poverty.