Taking the lead on mining

Dindo Manhit, President of the Stratbase ADR Institute for Strategic and International Studies

Since the Commission on Appointments gave its thumbs down to Gina Lopez as secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Stratbase ADR Institute has pushed the mining industry, through the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, to employ a more stringent, self-regulating approach. This initiative is geared toward differentiating mining’s “rotten eggs” from its good ones, so to speak.

The need for legitimate miners to show that they mine responsibly only became greater after President Duterte delivered his second State of the Nation Address. In his speech, the President used the same “colorful” language he has used against those involved in the trade in illegal drugs to call the attention of miners wreaking havoc in areas where agriculture is supposedly thriving. The speech was delivered well after the appointment of the new DENR secretary, who appears to be taking a more level-headed stance than his predecessor. Thus, the Sona must be seen as reflecting the President’s personal views on the mining industry — and they aren’t positive.

Earlier this year, Stratbase ADR Institute worked with Dr. Carlo Arcilla from the University of the Philippines’ National Institute of Geological Sciences to put together a policy paper for mining after the sector received its wake-up call from Ms Lopez. Last Thursday, the institute launched the paper, titled “Mining in the Philippines: Problems and Suggested Solutions.”

In presenting his work to representatives of the government, industry, and civil society, Arcilla first outlined how mining is done in the Philippines, putting particular emphasis on the regulatory framework. This set the stage for him to clear misconceptions on the industry perpetuated by antimining groups.

Here is one such myth debunked by Arcilla:

One graphic shown consistently by antimining groups shows that 40 percent of the Philippine land area will be mined… This misconception is cleared up by restating the fact that the first procedure for mining in the Philippines comprises an application for an exploration permit, and that the Philippines is subdivided into 81-hectare blocks wherein one has to apply for exploration. The total area where exploration has been applied for is probably close to 40 percent.

What is not explained is that the exploration permits are subject to many no-go rules where mining cannot occur. For example, areas that are populated, that are agricultural, that are protected, or that meet other standards are automatically excluded from mining. The reality is this: the areas that have active mining tenements only comprise less than 3 percent of the total area of the country, and, of these MPSA-covered areas, less than half a percent (0.3 percent) are being actively mined.

After correcting fallacies associated to mining, Arcilla offers practical solutions to move mining forward. Among the proposals is using an “endpoint perspective,” and not just look at the net present value, in determining the feasibility of a mining project, to wit:

It is a profound insight wherein both the government and the mining company look at mining projects not just from the beginning, but from the end or post-closure perspective. This means visualizing the final mine rehabilitation; the disposition of water, waste and tailings; and sustainable communities.

In giving inputs during the paper presentation, Dr. CP David, another renowned geologist, stressed the importance of capacitating the multipartite monitoring teams that serve as the frontline in ensuring that mines are compliant with their environmental and societal obligations. He posited that mining companies should be responsible for the entire area they have been granted concession to and not just parts where operations are undertaken.

During the launch, Arcilla challenged the miners to address the so-called “legacy” mines that continue to hound the industry. For him, it is the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines that should take the lead, be proactive and not reactive. If the mining sector can get its act together, the Philippines might be able to reap the development benefits of its mineralized lands.

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