New law needed to manage minerals for clean energy shift — study

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
New law needed to manage minerals for clean energy shift � study
This photo taken on February 25, 2017 shows an aerial shot of the mining site in Loreto town in Dinagat island.
AFP / Erwin Mascarinas

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines needs a new mining law on the management of minerals needed for the shift to renewable energy and that law should make social and environmental justice a priority, according to the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center.

The Philippines is the fifth most mineral-rich country in the world, producing minerals used in clean energy technologies such as chromium, cobalt, copper, nickel, and silver.

In 2020, the Philippines was the second biggest producer of nickel, accounting for 14% of the world’s total supply. It also has the fourth largest copper and cobalt reserves.

Mining accounts for less than one percent of the country’s gross domestic product. The extraction of minerals needed for renewable energy technologies, meanwhile, drives deforestation and the climate crisis, threatens water sources, and displaces people.

According to a discussion paper published by the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center, 60% of mineral deposits and 49% of mining projects in the Philippines are found in ancestral domains — areas where the rights of indigenous peoples' communities are protected by law. The extractive sector has been also linked to human rights violations and the killings of environmental defenders.

LRC called for the passage of the Alternative Minerals Management Bill, which proposes a transformation of the present minerals regime by balancing the need for minerals with environmental, social, and economic considerations. A bill filed by Sen. Risa Hontiveros has been pending at the Senate's environment committee since July 2022.

"The bill is anchored in the climate justice discourse and rationalizes mining under a national industrialization framework, where only strategic minerals will be mined," said Maya Quirino, advocacy coordinator of LRC, said.

There is no counterpart measure at the House of Representatives yet, although Makabayan lawmakers have filed the People's Mining Bill. The bill also seeks to create a new regime for the mining industry that is anchored on social justice, respect for people’s rights and welfare, environmental conservation, and national industrialization.

The LRC noted the country’s current mining framework under the Mining Act of 1995, "merely echoed the investment-centered, export-oriented track of the liberalizing national economic policy at the time."

New mining regime

The AMBB has an exhaustive list of no-go mining zones that include old growth forests, mangrove forests, prime agricultural lands, critical watersheds and habitats, climate-vulnerable areas, small-island ecosystems, sacred sites, and burial grounds.

The proposed legislation also puts decision-making in the hands of communities and local government unit and will "ensure the right to free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) and rights of redress for affected communities as well as being informed by an assessment of the true costs and benefits of mineral extraction," the LRC paper reads.

LRC also stressed that just mineral transition should be integrated in government policy blueprints such as the Philippine Development Plan and the Philippine Energy Plan. The proposed sunset review of the Renewable Energy Act could also interrogate the role of transition minerals.

More local ordinances creating no-go zones are also needed, the legal and policy research institution added.

Just minerals transition

The concept of just transition means that shifts to cleaner forms of energy and transport should address how these will affect the rights of workers, and consider the human rights issues in the wind and solar value chain.

LRC stressed that a just minerals transition goes beyond mere “responsible mining” or “climate-smart mining,” as it attempts to minimize or optimize the role of mining in a low-carbon future.  

"A just minerals transition has the following attributes, based on and synthesizing current literature: it is post-extractivist; it is based on justice; it integrates, but also recognizes the limits to circularity; and it reinforces accountability in mineral sourcing," the paper read.

"A just minerals transition must be rights-based, upholding the entitlements of mining-affected communities," it added.

Former President Rodrigo Duterte pursued mining as an economic recovery strategy from the COVID-19 pandemic by lifting a ban on open pit mining. This is echoed by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

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