"Responsible mining is an engine we need for economic recovery."
In the latest findings of the Social Weather Stations survey conducted from June 23-26, 2021, an estimated 12.2 million Filipinos were jobless as of May 2021, and further increased to 13.5 million in June. To give an idea of the scale of these figures, they are just a little below the estimated population of Metro Manila which, according to Macrotrends, is over 14 million.
All industries have been affected by the depressed economy after more than 18 months of on and off lockdowns that have only failed to stop the spread of the pandemic. Millions of breadwinners are out of their regular jobs and many enterprises have closed operations.
However, there is one industry that’s demonstrating resilience amid this pandemic quagmire. The Philippine mining industry has remained mostly stable and even growing. According to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, the mining and quarrying sectors even increased their employment figures to 184,000 in 2020 compared to 182,000 the previous year. More employment opportunities are expected in the large-scale metallic sector as OceanaGold Phils. Inc. restarts operations in its Didipio project with the government’s renewal of its mining agreement.
The large-scale metallic mining industry is a highly regulated sector that must be compliant with very strict safety and environmental regulations in their operations. It takes years of capital-intensive exploration and regulatory hurdles before a mining company is given a mining permit to harness the state owned mineral resources, the whole operation of which results in substantial government revenues and prosperity for the host communities. A well-run mining project can sustain productivity and development for many decades and in some projects, sustained for generations.
The very nature of the large-scale metallic mining industry requires its players to be resilient and at all times have the readiness for market volatility and to quickly respond to any emergency situation that may befall their operations. Thriving in this kind of environment, large scale mining companies in the fold of the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (CoMP) were able to mobilize early to effectively mitigate the health hazards of the pandemic in their respective spheres of operations.
In Philex Mining Corporation’s copper and gold mine in Padcal, Benguet province, all 1,900 employees, mostly residents of the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), and the 80 employees in the company’s corporate offices continued their work while the region suffered a 25% unemployment rate at the start of the pandemic. Without delay, salaries and benefits were received and there were even salary increases demonstrating their agility in adapting to the pandemic crisis. Free medical benefits are standard to employees as random swab tests were given.
Also in CAR, Benguet Corporation’s Baguio Gold Operation in Itogon remained open, retaining 475 employees and is now hiring to fill up vacant positions. Jobs of its 1,433 employees in its various projects and head office did not lose a beat. Shuttle services, flexible working hours, regular RT-PCR screening tests, vaccines, quarantine facilities, and other safety essentials are being implemented to protect all employees. Subsidiary BenguetCorp Nickel Mines Inc. contracted an additional 794 employees when its operations in Sta. Cruz, Zambales resumed last year.
In Toledo City in Cebu, Carmen Copper Corporation’s employees’ salaries were uninterrupted while health protective measures were implemented to reduce infection risks. Work from home, flexible working hours, and free service buses were provided when public transportation was suspended during the lockdowns. Aside from the standard safety protocols, the company implemented the “Test, Trace and Treat” strategy meticulously and provided quarantine areas complete with meals and vitamins to workers who were exposed to the virus.
Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company (LCMC) for its part, continued to operate without reducing its manpower, and aside from implementing measures similar to other CoMP members, gave free medical services to employees and dependents. Massive testing was conducted for all mine site personnel and those who tested positive were given proper quarantine facilities with free meals as well. Vaccination of all their employees was also covered.
Sagittarius Mines Inc., though still waiting for government permits to start operations in Tampakan, South Cotabato, activated its crisis management and business continuity plans to sustain their staff and contractors. This and even their environmental program to produce, plant and propagate 120,000 seedlings for community members did not stop.
More of these pandemic success stories are being replicated and customized to meet the unique environments other mining communities, such as Berong Nickel Corporation’s “Malasakit” strategy in Quezon, Palawan, as well as TVI Resource Development Philippines Inc’s focus on community development in its Balabag Project in Bayog, Zamboanga del Sur.
These are just some exemplary models that are now benefitting millions of mining industry stakeholders despite these very difficult times. These are clear proof of how responsible mining works and provide a strong impetus to remove remaining regulatory barriers that have stifled what should be a major economic asset. Lifting the ideologically motivated open-pit mining ban will unleash the economic potential of our mineral endowments, minerals that the world needs as it rapidly becomes more dependent on digital and battery technologies—an economic engine we need for economic recovery.