Mining sector getting back on track

Catherine Talavera - The Philippine Star
Mining sector getting back on track
For one, the industry continued to post gains in its production value, registering double-digit increases in the first nine months.
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — The country’s mining industry had a lot to be happy about last year.

For one, the industry continued to post gains in its production value, registering double-digit increases in the first nine months.

Data from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) showed that the country’s metallic mineral production value went up by 22.34 percent from P99.03 billion in the same period last year.

“The generally favorable global metal prices propelled the Philippine mining industry’s production value in the first three quarters of 2021, due in large part to the growth in the production of gold and nickel ore.  Other metals, such as silver, copper, chromite and iron ore had lower output,” Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) spokesperson Rocky Dimaculangan said.

“We believe the trend continued during the last quarter of the year,” he said.

Employment and COVID efforts

Mining companies continued to employ their workers despite the pandemic.

“As in 2020, the industry remained resilient in 2021, proving that it can be a cornerstone in the country’s post-pandemic recovery efforts by continuing to generate employment as well as tax and export revenues for the government amid the global health crisis,” Dimaculangan said.

“The industry also contributed extensively to assisting COVID-19-affected host and neighboring mining communities by way of medical supplies, food assistance and other social amelioration initiatives,” he said.

COMP earlier said that its members were pulling out all the stops to keep their workers employed amid the pandemic as they implemented resilient strategies aimed at prioritizing health and safety.

Its members, composed primarily of the country’s largest metallic mines, responded early to the pandemic, which enabled them to effectively mitigate the risks of infection within and around their mines.

An example of this is Philex Mining Corp., which retained the jobs of its nearly 1,900 employees at its Padcal mine in Tuba, Benguet.

The company also kept the jobs in its corporate offices in Mandaluyong, where around 80 employees are posted.

Aside from securing employment, mining firms also intensified their efforts to prioritize the health and safety of the workforce.

An example of this is Carmen Copper Corp.’s Trace, Test and Treat strategy, wherein the company’s emergency responders and medical teams meticulously traced contacts of people exposed to persons positive with COVID-19 and provided regular testing.

Berong Nickel Corp. also strictly enforced health and safety protocols at its site, while Lepanto Consolidated Mining Co. provided workers with the necessary personal protective equipment, Vitamin C especially for the frontliners, as well as conducted massive testing for all the mine site employees.

Ban on new mineral deals lifted

One of the biggest news in the mining industry last year was the lifting of the ban on new minerals agreements.

In April, President Duterte signed Executive Order 130, amending Section 4 of EO 79 issued in 2012 under the Aquino administration, which prohibits the grant of mineral agreements until new legislation rationalizing existing revenue sharing schemes and mechanisms shall have taken effect.

The new EO allows the government to enter into new mineral agreements, subject to compliance with the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 and other applicable laws, rules and regulations.

It allows the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to continue granting and issuing exploration permits under existing laws, rules and guidelines.

MGB director Wilfredo Moncano earlier said the lifting of the moratorium on new mineral agreements would allow the mining industry to boost its contribution to the country’s economy.

More policies needed to boost industry’s potential

COMP said more policies must be implemented to make the country’s mining industry attractive to investors.

“While we welcome the issuance of EO 130, which lifted the moratorium on new mining permits, we look forward to further policy pronouncements, such as the lifting of the ban on open pit mining, that will help maximize the Philippine mining industry’s growth potential and attract more foreign and domestic investments,”Dimaculangan said.

“We also remain hopeful that business and investment policies will be more stable going forward.  Our country has a lot of catching up to do in terms of investment attractiveness and mining policies compared to other mining jurisdictions all over the world,” he said.

COMP chairman Gerard Brimo said the Philippines is no longer on the radar of global mining investors, citing results of a survey by Canadian think-tank Frasier Institute, which excluded the country.

He said despite the potential of the country’s mining industry, the opportunity to grow it has been squandered.

“The problem is that policies went against the industry starting 2012, when a moratorium on new mining permits was put in place by a presidential executive order, the reason being was because the industry was not paying enough taxes,” he said.

Brimo said it took years for the said policy to be lifted as EO 130, which allows the government to enter into new mineral agreements, was only issued by President Duterte last year.

He said that the ban on open-pit mining hampered the growth of the industry. He pointed out that open-pit mining is a method being used all over the world to extract near surface deposits that cannot be extracted by underground methods.

Moncano said he was hopeful that the draft department administrative order (DAO) lifting the ban on open pit mining would be signed before the end of the Duterte administration.

(Note: On Dec. 29, 2021, the DENR issued Department Administrative Order (DAO) 2021-40, which lifts the nationwide ban on open-pit mining for copper, gold, silver and complex ores, effectively repealing the order issued by late environment secretary Regina L. Lopez, a known anti-mining advocate, in 2017.)

In addition to the policies against mining, Brimo cited the case of a foreign mining company, which had to wait for two years for its permit to be renewed in the Philippines because of a dispute with a local government unit.

Pushing for sustainability

As mining activities have been generally criticized for their potential negative impact on the environment and the communities around their site, mining firms in the country make it a point to ensure that they implement sustainability programs.

Among their efforts to contribute to environmental protection include the industry’s commitment to establish bamboo plantations in over 4,000 hectares of land in the next three years, as part of the DENR’S bamboo plantation program.

In addition, COMP continues to adopt the Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) initiative, a globally recognized sustainability program established in 2004 by the Mining Association of Canada in 2004 that supports mining companies in managing key environmental and social risks.

Dimaculangan said the group continues to move forward by successfully aligning its “Filipinized” version of TSM with the Global Industry Standard in Tailings Management issued by the Global Tailings Review led by the United Nations Environment Programme.

“As part of this alignment effort, COMP has likewise adopted the Filipinized version of the TSM Climate Change Protocol and its supporting guide, thus bringing to eight the number of protocols that COMP’s member companies will implement in the coming years,” he said.

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