Doing business in the Philippines: mining

 

denr list of mining firms to be closed 2017
via DENR site

With Environment Secretary Gina Lopez’ pronouncement, I can just imagine how upset these firms are especially Lepanto and Benguet Corporation which have had long presence in Benguet (CAR). Hence their host communities as well.

I am for the non-degradation of the environment and all that. But I am also for mining as a vital economic activity. Mining gives us the raw materials necessary for almost everything around us. Go check your teeth for starters. So unless technology has come up with viable alternatives, a large scale 3D printing of gold, diamonds, and the other minerals for example, mining is as vital as air to us.

The root of the “problem of mining” in this country rather goes back to government regulation, or more correctly, inconsistent application of institutional procedures and systems.

Let’s review the Department of Environment’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) clarification of frequently asked questions on mining posted on the agency website:

1. How is mining regulated?

mgb how is mining regulated

2. What makes the present law better than the old Mining Law?

mgb old vs new mining law

3. How can the Mining Act safeguard the environment?

mgb how can mining law safeguard environment

4. Are all areas open to mining activities?

mgb areas not open to mining

5. Who monitors the compliance of these environmental programs?

mgb monitoring compliance

6. How are the interests of the host communities be safeguarded?

mgb safeguarding mining community interests

The significance of these policies, procedures, and systems are further summed up in MGB mission statement:

It fully recognizes that the development of a responsive policy framework in partnership with stakeholders to govern mineral exploration, mining and investment decisions and an effective institutional structure, are fundamental requisites for the sustainable utilization of the country’s mineral resources.

There is no way noncompliance could go undetected from the above givens, no?

The wider community assumes that the mining firms which were given and continue to be given the go signal to operate have all complied with government requirements at every step:

mgb different stages of mining

For instance:  Results of compliance monitoring based on commonly-agreed monitoring indicators, following the required multipartite membership of the monitoring team, should be known by all team members and subsequently by the entire constituent the members represent. If and when a member complains it has no knowledge of whether a firm is compliant or not, the problem emanates from within the monitoring team and should be already resolved at that point. Member(s) that were deliberately left out should already bring it up with the team lead and demand repeat of the monitoring activity (because earlier findings made without them are void). This is proactive participation versus reactive, that is, putting off simple problems in field operations for a resolution at national government level. By then, as we’re seeing now, simple has grown into costly.

In the first four years after university, I was involved in research for mining firms through their community relations offices. The studies were input to management’s strategic planning as they identify development programs for their host communities. In the period that we lived on site for the studies, I have come to observe that the firms’ business, second to meeting production objectives, has been focused on dealing with various and opposing local forces ie. local politicians (barangay up to region), IP groups, rebel groups, environmental groups and organizations all demanding one thing from them:  money or it’s equivalent. When they each didn’t get what they wanted, they make noise. In insisting for each of their agenda, without care of the others’, the groups lose sight thus cannot appreciate the strategic or longer term goals and programs being planned to benefit them all and the rest in their communities. They each wanted their demand to be given right here right now than talk common sustainable goals with the firms. Definitely no demonstated sense of community there. Possibilities of entire communities thrown away by group interests of the more visible, more vocal, more powerful few among them. A pitiful sight. Traumatic too for a relatively fresh university graduate. It was like witnessing somebody going through the act of suicide and being unable to do anything about it.

We haven’t yet touched the taxes and fees mining firms pay local governments over, what, 50 years, and how these actually translate to development and generation of growth in the localities. The poorest communities are the hosts to mining firms. Wala man lang sila matinong or up to standard main road for god’s sake! How is this after 50 years? And it’s not due to fucking environmental degradation.

Finally, as the MGB has clarified (above), mining doesn’t end when the firm stops producing, rather, includes rehabilitation of the place. This is not the case in the country. The mines have been allowed to pack up and flee. Thus what the majority in the communities are left with, that has imprinted itself in their minds, is the irresponsibility of mining companies.

It is therefore unfair, illegal, that mines, having been licensed the past 20, 30, 50 years, are being suspended or closed left and right because they’re suddenly now on watersheds. Businesses should not be made to doubly suffer from having dealt as best they knew how with inconsistencies and corruption in government.

The “problem of mining” is more complicated than what is being reported in media. And government has been part of that problem. When will it for a change become part of the solution?

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