Stepping up pandemic response and sustainability in mining communities

Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase ADR Institute

The COVID-19 pandemic induced the sharp decline in economic activities that crippled businesses, widened our pre-existing social inequalities, and inflicted hardship on the most vulnerable. Despite these, the pandemic also presented an opportunity to assess untapped resources that can be harnessed to move forward sustainably and inclusively.

Before the pandemic, businesses had already reinvented themselves to better balance economic goals and prevailing issues such as public health, climate resilience, and environmental stewardship. Amid the pandemic, businesses have gone beyond their core operations to provide unsolicited assistance to the most vulnerable communities of the country.

In remote and isolated areas, the Philippine mining industry’s COVID-19 responses have been quick and impactful. The mining companies’ deep-rooted relationship with the members of the communities, as well as their financial capabilities and technical expertise, enabled immediate and effective action on their communities’ concerns.

On public health, large-scale metallic mining companies swiftly realigned their funds and spent over P380 million in COVID-19 responses last year, benefiting over 1.1 million households and nearly 300,000 frontliners all over the country. The companies also constructed new or repurposed their existing facilities to serve as isolation and treatment areas.

For example, Philex Mining Corp. (PMC) and its subsidiary Silangan Mindanao Mining Co., Inc. (SMMCI) supported the communities and local government of Benguet and Surigao del Norte, respectively. The companies supplied much-needed medicines and financial assistance to community members and employees. Similarly, to aid medical frontliners, personal protective equipment or PPEs were given to different local hospitals of Benguet, Baguio, and Surigao del Norte.

In Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino, despite being non-operational since July 2019, OceanaGold Phils., Inc. built a P10.8-million first-class isolation facility that can accommodate multiple people. The facility comes complete with medicine for patients with respiratory problems and equipped with oxygen and rapid antigen test kits.

Similarly, Nickel Asia Corp. (NAC) and its affiliates Cagdianao Mining Corp. (CMC) and Taganito Mining Corp. (TMC) donated P18 million to the Philippine National Red Cross to build a molecular testing laboratory in Caraga. TMC also donated some rapid anti-body test kits (RATs) to help detect COVID-19 cases in Surigao del Norte.

To boost the national and local government’s COVID-19 vaccination programs, mining companies will also procure the vaccines, not just to employees, but also for their host and neighboring communities of their mining sites, all of which are in remote areas.

Mining companies did not only provide appropriate health protection to their employees and communities, but also provided aid to the local governments in laying and implementing the necessary steps to ensure their long-term sustainable economic recovery.

On the environment, through the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines’ (COMP) adoption of the Toward Sustainable Mining (TSM) principles and practices, mining companies address the concerns on environmental rehabilitation and conservation. TSM is a set of tools and indicators to drive performance and ensure that key mining risks are managed responsibly. It also aims to enable mining companies to meet society’s needs for minerals, metals, and energy products in the most socially, economically, and environmentally responsible way.

As frontliners in magnifying the need to rehabilitate and restore the forest, the mining sector, through the Mining Forest Program, was able to plant 36.87 million seedlings in mined-out and other areas as of May 31, 2020, and this is with an impressive survival rate of 91.58%.

On climate resilience, Filminera Resources Corp. and PhilGold Processing and Refining Corp. distributed food to almost 400 families in Masbate who were among the hardest hit by typhoons Rolly and Ulysses. The companies also donated P5 million to help rebuild damaged houses and distribute relief goods following the 6.6 magnitude earthquake in Masbate.

On development, the mining sector provides underdeveloped areas an opportunity to prosper in a new environment that benefits all linkages needed to support mining projects. Mining investments create a multiplier effect that cascades to the national and local economies in terms of taxes, infrastructure development, employment, and linked industries. Taken together, they can certainly make a serious dent in the government’s poverty alleviation agenda.

In fact, in 2016, data from the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, shows that pending foreign direct investments (FDI) for mining in the Philippines amount to a total of $23 billion. Notably, these investments are in far greater number than the 2017 FDI of $10.26 billion, 2018 FDI of $9.95 billion, and 2019 FDI of $7.65 billion.

Now, with the lifting of the moratorium on mining permits, we are one step closer to effectively reaping the untapped economic potential of the country’s vast mineral endowments. However, to fully achieve this and attract worthy investments, the mining industry must adopt, in full-scale, the TSM. At the same time, inconsistent and ambiguous regulatory hindrances such as the open-pit mining ban, a misguided policy that is not supported by science, should be resolved. It is also imperative that the legitimate mining industry, despite being unfairly suppressed for decades by an unstable policy regime, go beyond their mandated responsibilities and practically becomes the government’s proxy in developing infrastructure and eventually a thriving mining community where there was zero economic activity. Definitely, there is a need for a balanced partnership between the government and the mining sector, a strategy that would reflect on a more equitable, inclusive, and sustainable future.

This article was originally published in BusinessWorld.

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