"We have to make sure we are not on the losing end."
Black sand, for all the dollars it could actually generate for the country even in its raw form, is not without negative impact.
What could be considered the latest craze in mining, black sand or magnetite is used as an additive in the manufacturing of concrete and steel products, magnets, paint, ink, paper, jewelry, and cosmetics, making it a very lucrative commodity in foreign markets such as in China and Taiwan and as such, magnetite extractions are now being conducted in large scale in the areas of Cagayan, Pangasinan, Zambales and some parts of the Visayas.
However, despite its promises, black sand poses a greater risk. Black sand mining disturbs marine and coastal ecosystems and increases erosion and associated geohazards and that removal of material and associated erosion also likely results in land subsidence, which makes local communities particularly vulnerable to floods, damage from seasonal typhoons, and sea level rise.
Unfortunately, there is no law banning black sand mining thus black sand mining in itself is legal as long as the company engaged in this activity is granted permit, the only limitation is if the dredging is done in reservoirs and protective areas.
Presently, black sand mining operations by foreign or local firms require only a mayor’s permit from the local government unit concerned, thus, unrestrained exploitation is practically allowed.
Given the situation, Probinsyano Ako Rep. Jose “Bonito” Singson Jr. has filed a bill calling for the imposition of a ban on the exportation of black sand in its raw form.
Singson, chairman of the House Committee on Public Accounts, said the current economic crisis dictates that black sand extracted in the country be processed locally into steel and other byproducts, rather than exporting it in its raw form only to be imported back to the country in the form of expensive steel products.
By imposing such restrictions, Singson said it could help revive the economy which has been hit badly by the pandemic.
“Dead and dying businesses have to be revived to provide jobs for the growing number of Filipinos who have been rendered jobless as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The multi-billion-dollar local black sand industry could provide the answer to these grave problems,” according to Singson, adding that it’s rather ironic that other countries are allowed “to exploit our natural resources while we get scraps in return.”
Last February, Singson filed House Bill 6321 proposing to prohibit the exportation of black sand in its raw form and to require firms involved in black sand mining either “individually or collectively, to institute, build, or lease advanced processing plants for magnetite within the province where they are conducting actual mining operations,” and specifically provides that magnetite or its derivatives could only be exported have been processed locally.
In a recent hearing of the House Committee on Natural Resources on his proposed measure, Singson bared that “massive” black sand mining operations conducted by foreign firms have been going on for years now in various localities in Regions I and II and in the Visayas.
“Foreign companies take huge profits from exploiting our resources, our people absorb the environmental dangers the miners cause,” Singson laments at the same time warning that unregulated black sand mining causes erosion that trigger floods, a rise in sea level and other geohazards.
Right now, huge amounts of black sand are being shipped out and processed in other countries.
This process, Singson explains, grossly denies the country massive revenues that could be derived in processing magnetite and in importing them instead of giving displaced Filipinos much needed jobs. “It is the foreign exporters who are able to offer jobs to their countrymen.”
Of course, regulating black sand mining may not be the ideal solution. But if the government cannot do anything to stop this activity, it might as well ensure that we don’t end up on the losing end.