Decolonising the Story of 1521: Critical Perspectives and Calls to Action

Decolonising the Story of 1521: Critical Perspectives and Calls to Action

Colonialism and Mining in the Philippines

JD Dianala, DPhil candidate in Earth Sciences


Scattered in more than 7,600 islands in the west Pacific, the Philippines is known for abundant mineral resources. Societies thrived in different kingdoms of the archipelago, with traditions and trade involving gold and spices dating from the 10th century.

European colonizers that came later clearly had an eye for the wealth in the Philippine islands. The ubiquity of gems and gold was documented by Antonio Pigafetta1 in 1521—in weapons, jewelry, gold nuggets lying on the ground, and even in genital piercings of some local men. His keen eye lent a hand to the groundwork of more than 400 years of colonial rule.

The world’s lust for gold continues to this day. When the stock markets go into recession, investors put their money on gold, driving up the price of the metal, spurring more mining in the highly mineralized lands of the Philippine. But to whose gain?

In the past five years, widespread public opposition highlighting negligible economic benefits and environmental trade-offs of mining have resulted to open-pit mining bans and mining restrictions in the Philippines. With disastrous accidents in recent memory and the stark visual of losing forested mountains, opponents of mining come not only from environmental groups, but also locals who see and feel the footprint of mining.

Mining advocates argue that with over $840 billion of untapped potential, why should we ignore resources amidst all the economic woes of the country? Aside from the sale of actual resources, mining gives jobs to people and more than 20% of tax revenues for some regions of the country with limited industries

With mining representing only 0.6% of our national GDP, most hope that boosting domestic mineral processing for value added products and manufacturing would increase the contribution of our own resources to the national economy. However, operating high-energy processing facilities is hampered by the fact that the Philippines has the 2nd most expensive electricity rates in Asia, partly due to being a net energy importer of fossil fuels.

All these issues related to maximizing gains from natural resources points to too much dependence on global supply and demand. For nations like the Philippines, being stuck on a role of exporting cheap raw materials and importing more expensive products just worsens economic inequality and encourages neocolonialism.2

Part of the problem is the lack of appreciation on the importance and use of Earth resources and geology in our everyday lives. To this end, we should have more geoscientists—people trained to find resources and understand the geological processes and hazards around them---working closer with social scientists, engineers, communicators, and policy makers, for the sake of transparent and equitable solutions towards sustainable development.

1 Chronicler of Magellan’s expedition that crossed the Philippines

2  As an example, the Philippines is the largest nickel ore producer, Most of our nickel ore goes to China. Nickel is an important component of steel, and steel is something that we need for infrastructure development. And where do we import almost 50% of our steel? China.

JD Dianala is a Newton Agham PhD scholar pursuing a DPhil in Earth Sciences at the University of Oxford, while on study-leave as Instructor at the University of the Philippines-National Institute of Geological Sciences. He is a member of St Cross College and was president of the Oxford Philippines Society from 2017-2020. His views do not necessarily represent those of his affiliations or employer.

whatsapp image 2021 04 11 at 6 44 47 pm


whatsapp image 2021 04 11 at 6 44 47 pm