Mining is an issue of good governance

FROM A DISTANCE - Carmen N. Pedrosa - The Philippine Star

This is not the first time that a debate on mining vs. environmental concerns is taking place. A fierce debate happened as far back as 2012. If I remember right both mining groups and the government were determined to find the formula for responsible mining. It was accepted that there was a difference between responsible and irresponsible mining.

The new government was preparing a new Executive Order on mining to meet both the concerns of the mining industry and environment. It took time to come up with the details of the executive order. Millions of dollars had already been invested by mining groups from abroad. The government was sitting on it. If the Philippines was not as rich as it is in minerals, it would not have mattered.

But I don’t think we should leave  the last word to Ms. Gina Lopez. Her opinionated views on mining is anti-people. It is well known that with our mineral riches (I think the third in the world), mining is the only big ticket industry that can lift our economy. By this I mean to lift the lives of millions of our countrymen from squalor and poverty – not merely higher GNPs.

It will not come with changing laws or policies to please all clashing vested interests. I am afraid EOs, however well they are crafted, are only words on a piece of paper. It is a start but it will not be enough to make the mining industry work for the country. It will need leadership with a vision and the will to realize that vision. Uppermost in that vision is how it is implemented and supervised.

I was told that Gina Lopez met with President Aquino to push for her anti-mining cause although she sometimes distinguished between responsible and irresponsible mining, those in the industry can see through her. 

With foreign and local investors looking then to how Aquino would handle the mining imbroglio he disappointed.

The needs of our poor coincide with the high demand for metallic resources we have that other countries can only envy. We need tourism, we need to preserve the environment and we need mining. But these have to be balanced with strong and informed leadership instead of being evaded to the detriment of the country and the economy. (It must be said that the tourist destinations are far from rich mining areas.) The two are incompatible because metal resources are usually found in barren land and hard rock) while tourist destinations are in areas of thick foliage and beaches.

Aquino’s new EO did not end the gridlock because the rules were not implemented. Mining to be safe and the rules strictly implemented.

Why, other countries including many in our region have been able to balance these differing interests to their national advantage? I think the answer is good governance.

The more regulations, the more cumbersome the processing, if it is true that the functions of the Mineral Development Council will be expanded. The new council will only be an added bureaucratic hurdle and prone to more corruption  for the mining groups that at the moment are already saddled with requirements that are acted upon by authorities only if they please.

On the issue of locating where mining can be allowed for environmental reasons, a land use survey through remote sensing has been long suggested. The suggestion was made way back in Marcos’ time and would have cost the Philippines about P10 billion. But as my friend scientist told me it would be worth every centavo.

It would spare us from conflicts on where mining can be allowed not just because church or local authorities say so but because there is a scientific basis.

As a mineral rich country we should actively take part in the mining circles around the world so we are informed about the industry. For example, countries in Africa who are into mining look to training being offered by countries like Australia and are prepared to train miners. It has just opened a new international mining centre based at the University of Western Australia.

The $31-million International Mining for Development Centre is funded by the Federal Government through AusAID. It will provide practical advisory, education and training services to developing nations on mining-related issues. I think that would be ideal for the pick and shovel miners. It is the lack of jobs and their need to survive that drive them to mine indiscriminately.

 “Well governed mining, gas and petroleum sectors can not only help reduce poverty, but also reduce a developing country’s dependency on aid,” the Australian prime minister said.

There shouldn’t be any quarrel between private sector and government. Both are for responsible mining. But they are caught in the rhetoric of their positions with those from government bent on regulation (unfair and officious to the miners) and the miners seeking the space for progress (reckless and unmindful of environment according to government and anti-mining advocates).

Strangely, with all our mineral riches and the potential to bring down poverty in the country this is not happening.

The Grant group reports that in terms of resources the Philippines beats most countries hands down.

 “The potential for the Philippine mining industry – often overlooked – is in fact beyond imagination. Out of the 30 million hectares of the Philippines, 9 million hectares or 30 percent of the entire country is identified to have high potential for mineral deposits. Yet only about 420,000 hectares or a mere 1.4 percent of the 30 million hectares are covered with existing mining rights. We have identified 24 major mining projects that will require $8.0 billion in investments for the next five to six years. They are primarily gold, copper and nickel projects.”

The Philippines has a long mining heritage even before the Spanish colonizers came.

We asked then Ambassador Mayorga how it developed its mining industry in Chile. It accounts now for 25 percent of the government income. “It is mining that provides for a strong social program that has reduced extreme poverty to a mere 8 percent.”

Like the Philippines, Chile has a long mining tradition for around 180 years, Ambassador Mayorga said. So what did they do to make the tradition profitable and in the service of its people?

“In the last 40 years Chile opened its economy allowing the participation of foreign capital and now we are the first producer of copper and nitrates in the world.” He adds that the public sector also participates in activity with around 40 percent.

“By the way,” the Chilean ambassador adds, “the best salaries in the country are paid in mining.”



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