Greater value in mining eyed

A more vibrant mining industry is possible if the country establishes more processing plants that will generate additional jobs, according to a senator.

Senator Cynthia Villar, chairman of the Senate committee on environment and natural resources said the establishment of more processing plants should be the long-term vision for the industry.

Data from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau show that the mining sector employs more than 200,000 workers. Mineral exports reached $524 million in the first half of 2016, representing just 4.1 percent of total merchandise exports.

Villar said while the mining industry generated jobs and helped reduce poverty in the provinces, more domestic processing facilities should be put up to boost employment in those areas.

Ground-based radar technology monitoring at Siana Gold Project Surigao del Norte
“In the future, that should be the vision because now we are just exporting the raw materials. But as the country develops, we should export processed [mineral products]. That should be the long-term [goal] for the industry—to do more processing here,” she said.

“Mining projects that prioritize local suppliers and contractors should be topmost priority since this can spell the difference in inducing growth in both upstream and downstream industries such as agriculture and agro-forestry, which can thrive under responsible mining operations. These can also increase mining’s gross value added, which is around P80.9 billion or about 0.6 percent of the GDP only,” Villar said.

Chamber of Mines of the Philippines executive vice-president Nelia Halcon said, however, that establishing processing plants in the country would not be easy.

“You cannot do it overnight because that will need big investments. You have to come up with economic feasibility study that would give both the investors and the government the benefit,” Halcon said.

Halcon said the industry could start producing iron rods and supplies that could be used for the car manufacturing industry.

“It will take some time for economic feasibility. The industry is willing [to invest] provided that the government will give incentives. But the government cannot impose just like what Indonesia did. They should just encourage,” Halcon said.

Mining audit

To improve the mining sector, President Rodrigo Duterte asked Environment Secretary Regina Lopez to assess the operations of mining companies.

A government-led audit resulted in the suspension of several operating mines, most of which are nickel-producing projects. These companies account for about 10 percent of the country’s nickel production.

Mines and Geosciences Bureau director Luis Jacinto said the government’s move to assess the operations of mining companies aimed to ensure that miners were addressing the environment and community concerns.

“Mining industry, especially the responsible miners I believe will continue doing what they do best. We focus on ensuring that they make sure that the environment, the community concerns are addressed properly,” Jacinto said.

“We must have responsible mining that is what is provided for in our rules and regulations.

That is also the instruction of the president, make sure that mining operations are compliant with the existing laws, rules and regulations,” Jacinto said.

Jacinto said he believed that responsible miners would make extra efforts to ensure that the country’s resources were protected. 

“Otherwise, it will also be very costly for them because the investments that are put on the ground is not something that can just be withdrawn or taken for granted,” Jacinto said.

Industry’s concerns

The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines expressed confidence that the results of the mining audit would be fair, anchored on the promise of President Rodrigo Duterte to render a clean government. 

“The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines is confident of positive results on its members following the commencement of the mines audit conducted by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources,” said Halcon.

“That the audit was done with utmost objectivity and that the findings will be properly transmitted to the respective audited mining companies for them to be able to address the gaps in their operations,” Halcon said.

Aside from the audit, the government is also creating a roadmap for the mineral industry.

National Economic and Development Authority director for agriculture, natural resources and environment Mercedita Sombilla said the roadmap would provide the government a view of the pros and cons of the mining industry.

“The roadmap started last administration and it’s still ongoing. The roadmap is just a roadmap and how to do it will be indicated there,” Sombilla said.

Sombilla said with the creation of the roadmap, the government is giving importance to the contributions of the mining industry to the economy.

“We really give importance to the continuation of the mining sector. The auditing will provide us with some directions on where we really should go,” Sombilla said. 

Sombilla said the mining audit and the creation of the roadmap would also help the government improve the mining industry.

“She  [Environment Secretary Regina Lopez] has to consider this as a totality, how this could impact on the development of the economy. The audit will help us see what is happening in the existing operating mines, what can we learn from, how can we strengthen them, [and] how we make them more responsible in terms of how responsible mining is defined,” Sombilla said. 

“We should not be looking only in the next 10 to 20 years, but also in the future. Because that is an extractive industry, we really need to put in place the mining that will have an economic value in the future. I think that is why she wants this auditing to be done. She wants to see what are the factors and the things that we can promote,” Sombilla said.

Consultations are on-going for the creation of the roadmap for the mineral industry. 

“In some of the commodity roadmaps,  such as the copper roadmap and the gold jewelry roadmap, our experts are being consulted.  I think the government, particularly Neda is trying to find out how the industry’s contribution to the economy can be increased,” Halcon said.

Mining development 

Halcon said the industry remained optimistic that the government would help the industry flourish.

“Members of the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines vow to work for the national interest by fulfilling our obligations as prescribed by the law; by promoting the development of rural and indigenous communities and by complementing the delivery of government’s social services in education, health, livelihood and infrastructure,” Halcon said.

“We shall continue investing in human development and environmental protection through our strengthened environmental protection and enhancement programs. We will continue to adhere to our core values of discipline, accountability and integrity in all that we do,” Halcon said.

Topics: Mining industry , Senator Cynthia Villar , chairman of the Senate committee on environment and natural resources , Mines and Geosciences Bureau
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