COLUMN: Can responsible mining be real?

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            In our part of Mindanao today, multi-national mining corporations are in the limelight. Investors are pouring in millions of dollars in exploration works or starting to dig up for precious minerals. Despite trumpeting economic boom that could eventually be derived from mining, the MNCs are facing hurdles from environmentalist groups, the Church and tribal communities for the looming pollution mining could bring to communities.

            This situation is true in South Cotabato where the Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) is exploring copper and gold in thousands of hectares that straddles three provinces including Davao del Sur in the Davao Region.

SMI is still to convince the oppositors about modern mining methods being not a threat to environment and people. But as experienced in mining areas hereabouts,  corporate social responsibility often is good only at the initial stage before bulldozers ravaged forests; promised medical missions end as soon as corporate greed takes over; employment in areas where MNCs talk of economic boom from mining sometimes are rare as a dodo. Meanwhile, tribals bribed to sell ancestral domain lose their culture and tradition as hapless victims of developmental aggression.

SMI is the biggest investment ever in our part of Mindanao. It tries to dispel doomsday prognostications of what would happen to Central Mindanao in future. Sure it is doing its best to prove it is sincere. Certainly, economic boom is a reality when it starts digging for gold and copper—the biggest deposit in Asia—but we hope its heart is in the right place.

The key word is RESPONSIBLE MINING, which should bring us to the speech of Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Ramon J.P. Paje before the ASIA MINING CONGRESS 2011 held recently in Singapore.

Paje, if he were the tourism officer, could be a top salesman. He prefaced his speech with what is good in the Philippines: an archipelago of 7,107 islands, home to 94 million Filipinos; lush rainforests and extensive coastlines that are habitats to a   diverse range of flora and fauna; one of the world’s 18 most biologically mega-diverse countries; with around 1,100 species of land vertebrates, including over 100 mammalian species and 170 bird species not thought to exist elsewhere;rich seas encompassing some 2.2 million square kilometers.

And then his audience being potential investors, he went for the guttural: the Philippines is very rich in economic mineral deposits—gold, copper, nickel, iron, chromite— you name it, we have it. For the record, the Philippines is the 3rd biggest producer of nickel ore, behind Russia and Indonesia, vaulting over Australia and Canada, according to Paje.

          He has a message though to investors: Sustainable development principles are enshrined in the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.

“We are banking on responsible mining, to bring about national growth in a manner that safeguards the environment and protects the rights of affected communities, including the indigenous peoples.”

          He warned investors that Responsible Mining is an advocacy now enshrined in vigilant communities where investors are planning ventures.

The Philippine mining industry has been the subject of intense scrutiny by major sectors of the Philippine society, such as local government units, civil society organizations and religious organizations, Paje told his audience.

          And how is the state of mining in the Philippines?

The Philippines has 22 large-scale operating mines, with aggregate total investments of US$3.835 billion at present and projected to reach US$18 billion by 2016.

Being from this part of Mindanao, we should take note of the fact that among huge investments mentioned by Paje is the $5.9 billion Tampakan Copper Project of SMI.

If SMI says it would practice responsible mining, how far can DENR go to ensure it toes the line? SMI, like the rest, would be under watch.

We attribute to past and current experiences the negative impacts of mining on the environment and host communities.   The industry continues to labor under the stigma of its “sins of the past.”  This is aggravated by indiscriminate mining practices, and the lack of a unified information campaign to address misconceptions about mining, according to Paje.

He adds that under the administration of President Aquino lll, the government is bent on fully addressing the issues confronting the Philippine mining industry.

Alongside various reforms that will level the playing field, remove graft and corruption and improve environmental compliance, the Philippine government shall protect mining investments and remove all interferences to mining projects.

At this point of Paje’s speech, SMI people should celebrate.

Paje said the government is committed to pursue the SMI Tampakan Project and has resolved that all attendant issues prior to its implementation, even if it decides to advance its timetable from 2016 to 2013, shall be properly addressed and that it is seriously encouraging SMI to continue the project.

The Philippine government continues to bank on mineral resources development as a vehicle for economic growth.  There will definitely be challenges along the way.  But for as long as democracy remains dynamic, we will always see the Philippines taking a critical role in promoting responsible mining as a measure of making this part of the world a better place to live in and invest in, said Paje.

Okay, okay, we hear you Mr. Paez. Now, let us hear it from SMI and how sincere it is on responsible mining and its corporate social responsibility.


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