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Opinion

Supervision

FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

We cannot do without mining. We have comparative advantage in this industry. Everything we use, from our phones to our cars, consumes mineral products.

The Philippine Mining Act of 1995, whose implementation was delayed a decade because of legal challenges posed by environmental groups, matches global best practices. That legal framework has been supplemented by a new partnership between government and the miners called the Negotiated Sustainability and Resilience Agreement (NSRA). This partnership, due for implementation next year, aims to further reduce adverse environmental impacts and improve host-community resilience.

Furthermore, the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines recently launched its Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) initiative. This initiative binds the mining companies to further improving their environmental, social and governance (ESG) benchmarks.

Much of the discussion around mining activities centers around environmental concerns. There is a second facet of this industry that deserves some attention as well: revenue-generation for government.

Local governments are best suited to supervise mining activities in their communities, both in terms of their environmental impacts and their compliance with tax obligations. Although local executives exercise no regulatory powers over mining activities, they may help by exercising closer supervision.

Eastern Samar Gov. Ben Evardone sets a model for this. He recently ordered a comprehensive review of mining activities in his province undertaken by a task force composed of provincial officials, experts from the DENR and representatives from the mining companies. The findings of this task force, along with the recommendations of the provincial government, will be submitted to the DENR.

Samar is one of our most mineralized islands. This explains why its soil is ill-suited for agriculture. Several mining ventures are in operation here, particularly in Homonhon Island off the town of Guiuan. Homonhon, we will recall from our history textbooks, was where Magellan and his small fleet of explorers first landed.

The task force established by the governor will assess the mining companies’ compliance with the terms of their production sharing agreements with government, the condition of workers in the mines and the surrounding communities, and the correct payment of taxes due. Royalties and excise taxes imposed by government are based on the volume of ore extracted. Local governments are best positioned to monitor that.

In organizing the task force, Evardone emphasized that his goal is not to add to the miners’ grief but to ensure that the worthy goals set forth by the Mining Act and the TSM initiative are closely observed in the province he leads. The effort is supported by DENR-VIII executive director Lormelyn Estrada Claudio, MGB regional director Glenn Marcelo Noble and EMB regional director Wilson Trajeco. All the mining companies in the province have eagerly participated.

The review Evardone ordered will be completed by year-end. It will give both government and the mining community a clear picture of how the most admirable advocacies of the industry are pursued at ground level.

We know the regulatory agencies tasked with supervising mining activities all over the archipelago are always short of competent manpower. The involvement of local governments such as that of Eastern Samar should be most welcome.

Caring

Apart from the four Filipinos killed during the Hamas attack on Israeli settlements last month, no further casualties among our migrant workers in the conflict zone has been reported. The Philippine government has been adept in rescuing our citizens and repatriating those who wish to return home.

The last batch of repatriates included Palestinian spouses of Filipinos. The country has welcomed them as warmly as we do our heroic workers.

As far as I know, the Philippines is the only country with a full-fledged government department dedicated to looking after our migrant workers. This produced a remarkable level of coordination between our diplomats, our welfare agencies and non-government organizations. In addition to the regular benefits due them, President Marcos has ordered scholarships for the children of our workers who lost their lives in the war.

The country’s caring attitude towards our migrant workers trickles down to the social responsibility programs of our largest corporations.

Recently, Cebu Pacific, the country’s largest air carrier, announced a partnership forged with United Filipino Global (UFG), an NGO looking after the welfare of our migrant workers. In the memorandum of understanding signed between the company and the NGO, Cebu Pacific offers free flights for select OFW beneficiaries and scholarship grants for their children. The airline likewise commits to providing special flights to deliver humanitarian assistance and transport distressed OFWs in cases of natural disasters, emergencies and critical situations.

In addition, the airline is organizing information campaigns to update our OFWs on safe and responsible air travel practices. Cebu Pacific’s information base is also made available to our migrant workers to enable them to figure out the best way home.

The partnership with UFG continues the company’s policy of “malasakit” towards our countrymen abroad. In 2021 alone, during the height of the pandemic, Cebu Pacific repatriated over 11,000 from the Middle East.

Apart from its program for our migrant workers, Cebu Pacific has been upgrading its fleet to reduce its carbon footprint. A recent flight to Narita used sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) that cuts carbon emissions by 44 percent. The company is investing in more fuel efficient engines and is on track to meeting the aviation industry’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.

Government’s caring attitude towards our migrant workers has spread to the private sector. Hopefully, more companies will imagine innovative programs to care for our migrant workers.

A tenth of our population works abroad.

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