Moving on from ban on open-pit mining

Dindo Manhit, President of the Stratbase ADR Institute 

The Mining Industry Coordinating Council, cochaired by the finance and environment secretaries, recently voted to overturn the ban on open-pit mining through Department Administrative Order No. 2017-10. The order, which specifically stopped open-pit mining only for copper, gold, silver and complex ores, had been issued by then Environment Secretary Gina Lopez.

Before the vote, Lopez, along with other antimining personalities, appealed to the government not to reverse the policy. Meanwhile, the mining industry sat tight and hoped for the best, as its interests lie in the hands of the interagency council. Antimining groups will probably continue to contest the repeal.

But in the interest of protecting the environment, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, now headed by the newly confirmed Secretary Roy Cimatu, should stay away from this policy tug-of-war and focus on the task at hand. No one wins in the constant bickering between the antimining coalition and the mining industry, and the environment stands to suffer most with unsound policies and unsavory business practices.

For one thing, the DENR’s attention and the public discourse on the environment must not be centered on mining. In a policy paper of Stratbase ADR Institute titled “Mining in the Philippines: Problems and Suggested Solutions,” Dr. Carlo Arcilla observed how the mining footprint is too small to create the huge environmental disturbance its critics like to portray:

“It is safe to say that most Filipinos have not seen an actual mining area, but have instead been bombarded by negative publicity about mining. The total mining area in the Philippines comprises less than half of 1 percent of the country’s total land area. To compare, the actual area of islands and nearby seas devastated by illegal dynamite and cyanide fishing in the Cuyo group of islands in the Sulu Sea is much bigger.”

Moreover, arguing about the right regulation can be futile when execution is poor. As noted by Dr. CP David in the Stratbase ADR Institute book “Thinking Beyond Politics”:

“A common theme in the problems facing resources utilization and waste management is the poor implementation of the law. The overarching strategy to solve this seems to be building the capacity of local stakeholder organizations and to allow them to govern their concerned sector within their political jurisdiction.”

Arcilla seconded this opinion: “Responsible mining is possible, but it will require self-policing among mining companies and vigorous and complete implementation of mining law by government agencies.”

More important, it has been the consistent stand of Stratbase ADR Institute that environmental problems can only be solved through collaborations among the stakeholders involved.

Disturbances in the environment are felt by all of us, leaving us with no option but to work together in order to fully understand the problem and come up with an effective solution.

David elucidated on this point:

“A trisectoral approach, involving government, the private sector, and civil society, will provide a platform for collaboration among relevant stakeholders, all essential cogs in environmental policy-making and implementation. This inclusive approach will hopefully help in pinpointing where the fulcrum should stand between economic development and environmental protection.

“While the three sectors will predictably forward their own interests, the next step lies in reaching a common ground, guided by the spirit of sustainable development. The status quo, in which there is private sector greed on one side, and hardline NGOs on the other, and government merely succumbing to whoever applies more pressure can no longer continue.”

We owe it to future generations to elevate the discourse to how we can build partnerships around the responsible stewardship of the environment. Yet, moving on from the open-pit saga must not signal a business-as-usual attitude for the mining industry. As Arcilla aptly put it: “The recent attention given to mining companies should force them to cleanse their ranks, exceed compliance and demonstrate visibly that responsible mining is really possible.”

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