Gov’t should not crucify mining industry
INTROSPECTIVE - Tony Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - July 30, 2018 - 12:00am

I cannot understand why the mining industry is being pilloried when the industry is one of our country’s biggest contributors to our economic development. In his third State of the Nation Address (SONA) at the Batasang Pambansa last week ‘Digong’ Duterte once again lambasted the mining industry. Let me now call your attention dear reader to my column over a year ago on the same subject:

“I would have to admit that I don’t understand why mining is now the center of attention of President Duterte. I admit that there may be some issues that need to be resolved or addressed in the mining industry, but I don’t think it should be the focal point of the government right now. I think we can all agree that there are far bigger concerns that we should be putting the spotlight on — armed conflicts, infrastructure, education, fixing the traffic, international relations, healthcare, taxes, and the list goes on and on.

Don’t get me wrong; I believe that we should have keen focus on environmental protection and rehabilitation too. That’s an important issue that should not get pushed to the back burner.  But I don’t think that crucifying the mining industry is the way to address our country’s environmental issues. If anything, there are extremely strict regulations that exist on mining companies.  There is a lot more that contributes to the environmental degradation than mining for minerals. I believed that the president won’t see the results he is hoping for by focusing on just one industry.

Mining has been a hot button topic for the Duterte administration for a long time. We saw the issue escalate dramatically when Gina Lopez was assigned to be Environment Secretary and she let loose on mining companies. Although she was later rejected by the Commission on Appointments it’s clear that many of her opinions still remain in the President’s head and during his State of the Nation Address (SONA) he warned miners in the country that unless they cleaned up their act he would “tax them to death.”

Personally I feel that the President may have gone overboard with his view of the situation. But then again, he is known for being ruled by emotion first and foremost and I can understand again, his desire to protect the environment. But I hope he recognizes the contribution that responsible mining has made to the Philippines. It’s an important resource and a major industry that helps provide livelihood to several communities.

In other countries natural resource industries work together with the government for the best possible outcomes. Here in the Philippines it seems to be the opposite. The court of public opinion often sways those in power. I hate to say it but, while it is important for people to have a say in the way the country works, unsubstantiated opinions should not ultimately force our government’s hand.

It’s possible I see it from the wider perspective. After all as I mentioned before I was one of the people who helped craft the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 and I believe that while the industry may have expanded since then, the rules and regulations that need to be in place for responsible mining have not. We just need to ensure that the players are following the law to the letter.

As I said the industry and the government need to work proactively together. That is the only way we can get the best possible outcome. That’s why I’m happy that the president agreed to meet with the different mining executives. Although he was the only one who spoke at their recent meeting, it is still a solid first step towards more open dialogue and communication which to this point has been sorely missing.

At the meeting the president admitted that he is a stickler for the law and the law allows mining. However, he reiterated that mining firms need to take responsibility for the environment in the communities where they do business. I believe that is really carved into their DNA so I don’t see this being a problem. After all, most of the top mining firms make it their mission to be responsible, reduce their impact as much as possible, and have strong CSR programs in place in their respective communities.”

I still remember when I was in the private sector up to 1993, and worked as public relations manager of Atlas Consolidated Mining and Development Corp., one of the flagship companies of the late Col. Don Andres Soriano Sr., whose slogan was ‘Profit with Honor’ which at that Atlas was well-renowned for its best practices in mining not only in Southeast Asia but as far away as Australia and Chile, who host several mining firms. Today, we still have good mining firms like Atlas Mining, Philex Mining Corp., Lepanto Mining, Benguet Corp. and some good mining firms.

The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP), which consists of the country’s mining companies, have reiterated that its members are complying with the Administration’s directive to protect the environment.  However, we can have a dual relationship not only with the environment but also our natural resources. Remember, the government has the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) which is composed of forestry and mining. One should not take precedent over the other.

The President should not forget our country’s rich mineral resources that provides livelihood to their workers and their families in distant towns and barrios of the country.

*      *      *

It’s good that the Commission on Elections has publicly declared that the 2016 election were valid fair and square. The Comelec’s affirmation of the 25-percent threshold of the vote is a vindication for former Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes.

Despite being known as a Marcos supporter, Brillantes insisted that the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) erred in denying Robredo’s motion, saying the Supreme Court should have consulted the Comelec first on the matter.

Brillantes insisted that the poll body used the 25-percent threshold in the conduct of the random manual audit in the 2016 elections so it is logical to use the 25-percent threshold in the election protest against Robredo.

While other protests filed before the Senate Electoral Tribunal and House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal use the 25-percent threshold, the PET opted to use the 50-percent threshold.

Brillantes said this should not be the case as members of the SET and HRET are also members of the PET. Now Brillantes view has been solidified with the Comelec’s manifestation before the PET about the 25-percent threshold.

He has been saying all along, the Comelec told the PET that the 25-percent threshold was used in the 2016 national and local elections and must be used in the election protest against VP Leni Robredo.

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