Stewardship of the environment and natural resources

Well recognized and even envied is the rich endowment of natural resources of the Philippines. We have fertile, arable lands, diverse flora and fauna, extensive coastlines, and one of the richest mineral deposits in the world.

Ironically, these national assets have remained a potential that has not been efficiently managed as a strategic economic pillar that would generate revenues for government, support local industries and generate quality employment for the poorest sector of society.

Experts from the minerals development industry have called for a clear and comprehensive natural resources roadmap. This would become the basis for sound developmental policies that will ensure responsible stewardship of the strategic resources and strict compliance to environmental regulations. This would harmonize and hopefully resolve policy gaps and establish a well-balanced developmental mindset. These, in turn, would address the contentious issues that are linked to the use of natural resources.

In response to President Duterte’s call for to be more responsible in doing business, the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) has formally adopted Canada’s sustainable mining model called “Toward Sustainable Mining” or the TSM initiative. These are standards developed by the Mining Association of Canada (MAC) designed to enhance the environmental and social performance of the mining industry. The program is fast becoming a global standard and is currently implemented by national mining associations of Finland, Argentina and Botswana.  The adoption of CoMP is first within the Southeast Asian region.

A few months ago, I stated in this column that the mining industry obtained some sense of direction after the inter-agency Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) officially voted to lift the ban on open-pit mining issued by former Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Gina Lopez “provided that mining laws, rules, and regulations are strictly enforced.

DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu said DENR would follow the MICC recommendation, in what industry has lauded as a positive development for the sector. But not long after, in a sudden policy twist, President Duterte announced that the ban on open-pit mining stays. This is yet another confusing turn in government policy.

Apparently, a follow-up news report quoted Department of Finance (DOF) Undersecretary Bayani Agabin clarifying that, “The President has made a policy decision and we respect that, but since the report, the findings of the TWG (technical working group) has not found its way to Malacanan yet, so the decision was nevertheless to submit it to the President for whatever purpose it may serve,”

In the same article, DOF assistant secretary Ma. Teresa Habitan, said the report would be available this month and will then be forwarded to the President. She further explained that the MICC decided to provide the president the info provided by the TWG so it will be in the form of memorandum giving him a basis for future policy decisions.

So I hope that with the scientific facts presented to the President, like the MICC, he would appreciate the comprehensive thought process that led to the recommendation—and then reconsider his position on the open pit ban.

This impasse again suspended what could have been the start of a new era for the mining industry and would have released a wave of mega-investments that would spark a long-term cycle boosting the country’s industrialization and economy. Models from all over the world throughout history have proven that the mining industry plays a critical role in the industrialization of an economy, which in turn is an important step in bringing about inclusive growth.

I also believe that lifting of the ban also represents an excellent opportunity for large-scale miners to prove themselves by cleansing their ranks and weeding out the non-compliant mining operations showing their critics that there is in truth responsible mining. The CoMP has taken serious steps to police its ranks and raise what are already stringent standards set by law. A self-regulated mining industry will definitely complement the government’s thrust to protect the environment and maximize the benefits of mineral assets.

The biggest prospective open pit mines are the $2-billion Silangan mine in Surigao del Norte and the $5.9-billion Tampakan project in South Cotabato, which if allowed to operate, will be the biggest foreign investment and one of the largest copper and gold prospects in the world.

The case study of Philex Mining Corporation’s Silangan project presented to the MICC demonstrates strict compliance to existing regulatory safety nets in addressing the concerns about open pit mining and summarized the 4 prescribed imperatives of responsible mining: Technical feasibility, environmentally compliance, social acceptability and financial viability. These are requisites that all industries, not just mining, should adopt.

Aside from Silangan Mine there are many-award winning models of rehabilitated mines such as: the wild duck sanctuary of what was the tailings pond of Philex’s Bulawan Mine; Sitio Lalab which has become greener than ever before as a result of the rehabilitation of Sibutan Gold mine in Zamboanga del Norte also by Philex; in the same province is the greening of Canatuan Mine of TVI Resource Development; and there are Nickel Asia’s nickel mines in Taganito, Surigao del Norte and Bataraza, Palawan that even former Secretary Gina Lopez commended as benchmarks for mining.

All of these provide hard evidence that open-pit mines can be safely operated and rehabilitated and transformed to benefit local communities for generations.

Topics: stewardship
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