Developing the mining potential of our country necessitates a far more complex and progressive way of capitalizing opportunities and benefits.
Recently, the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) launched the Mining Philippines 2019 International Conference with the theme, “Riding the Wave: Capitalizing on Opportunities,” featuring various enlightening speeches and presentations suggestive of serious economic and policy challenges.
The Philippines, being the fifth most mineralized country in the world, has the potential of attracting billions of dollars in capital investments that can jumpstart progress in remote areas of the country, and this cannot be ignored. This is acknowledged by Environment and Natural Resources Undersecretary for Climate Change and Mining Concerns Analiza Teh, but these potentials are “yet to be completely realized.”
According to her, five mining projects could boost the contribution of the mining sector to the economy. These are the Tampakan Copper-Gold project in South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, and Davao del Sur with a total capital investment of $20 billion; the Kingking Copper-Gold mining project in Compostela Valley, $2.29 billion; the Silangan Copper-Gold in Surigao del Norte, $40.43 billion; the Pujada Nickel project in Davao Oriental, P540.36 billion; and the Balabag Gold-Silver project in Zamboanga del Sur, P1.04 billion.
Consequently, she rightly expressed that “Our goal now is how to maximize this potential to boost growth without compromising the protection of the environment and ensuring the sustainability of mining practices.”
This is exactly the policy direction that the COMP is gearing towards. On Dec. 19, 2017, the COMP became the first Southeast Asian mining association to adopt the TSM standard. It is the fourth mining association outside of Canada to do so after Botswana, Argentina, and Finland.
The COMP has announced the creation and the composition of the Community of Interest (COI) advisory panel. This panel is tasked to not only make recommendations or suggestions about the implementation of TSM but also to review TSM implementation results.
The panel is multi-sectoral in nature, comprised of 12 regular members from the following sectors: indigenous peoples, local government, environment expert, policy/technical, CSO/academe, religious, legal, academe, labor, media, forestry/environment, and finance. It also includes three ex-officio members from the mining industry.
The existence of a COI panel and community consultations would facilitate developing a desired level of social acceptance to mining as a responsible and sustainable means of livelihood and economic growth. The social license for large scale mining to operate will thus be achieved from an experiential level. In the context of the TSM’s general objectives, the panel is an added mechanism to further insure the accountability, credibility, and transparency of mining operations in the designated areas of our archipelago.
Open pit mining has acquired a controversial reputation due to public misinformation. Worse, large-scale mining is outright dismissed.
Without the benefit of firsthand information, government and the public at large fail to see that rehabilitation is indeed doable and effective after open pit mining operations are carried out.
Several mining companies — under the standard practice of progressive rehabilitation that is strictly implemented by COMP — have successfully undertaken rehabilitation. To wit, one should see the progressive rehabilitation practiced in Bataraza, Palawan that has long been implemented by Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corp.; the Bulawan and Sibutad Projects in Negros Occidental and Zamboanga del Norte by Philex Mining Corp.; the Taganito Mining Corp.’s mine in Claver, Surigao del Norte; and TVI Resource Development’s Canatuan Mine in Zamboanga del Norte. Legitimate mining operations are highly regulated and must operate in compliance with all mining and environmental laws.
The developmental approach to mining and the principle of balanced environmental governance align with the mission of the Philippine Business for Environmental Stewardship (PBEST). Launched in November 2013, PBEST has endeavored to “promote national developmental policies that integrate responsible stewardship of the environment as a positive factor for economic growth.”
PBEST acknowledges the urgent need to establish the necessary legal and regulatory environment to realize the full potentials of the mining industry and its contribution to economic growth. It supports the efforts of the DENR and the COMP in the promotion of “genuine responsible mining.”
On this note, the restrictive and negative approach of government toward mining should shift toward a developmental policy regime of environmental stewardship and responsible mining. Balanced environmental governance is the key to realizing and unlocking the transformative potentials of sound resource management and sustainable mining activities.
Together, the private stakeholders, the national government, the LGUs, the concerned communities, and the public should forge and establish the needed legal and regulatory environment under which the mining industry could thrive. Policy differences between and among national laws and local ordinances about mining practices should be ironed out and made harmonious. Consequently, confusion is avoided, and the conduct of uninterrupted business operations is facilitated.
An invigorating legal and regulatory environment, domestic responsibility, and global competitiveness could all make the Philippine mining industry a precursor to national progress — job promotion, poverty alleviation, infrastructure development, and robust economic growth.
Carmelo Bayarcal is a convenor, Philippine Business for Environmental Stewardship (PBEST) which is an environment project of the Stratbase ADR Institute.