THE Philippines can’t live without mining which could be its big ticket out of poverty if done in a responsible way, industry leaders said at a recent mining forum held in Makati recently.
“In the end, it should be mining that significantly contributes to economic growth in a manner that mitigates impact on environment and improves the lives of people, or [there should be] no mining at all,” said the Mines & Geosciences Bureau Director Leo Jasareno, setting the tone for the forum that was jointly organized by the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Financial Executives of the Philippines and the Management Association of the Philippines.
Manny V Pangilinan ... mining advocate
Mining advocates, led by Philex Mining chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan, Chamber of Mines director Gerard Brimo and Wallace Business Forum’s Peter Wallace, pointed out that responsible mining was the way to go although the government must also boost its institutional capacity to regulate the industry, particularly the small-scale miners.
Pangilinan started his presentation by asking who in the forum did not have a cell phone, noting that an average cell phone contains about 24 milligrams of gold, 250 mg of silver, 3,800 mg of cobalt and nine mg of palladium.
“As with cell phones, mining touches most aspects of our daily life—when you build your home, use your laptops, take your car to work or even protest against mining. Clearly, we cannot live without mining,” he said.
Wallace said the Philippines cannot be a great country without mining. This industry, he said, could boost the country’s economic growth to 7 to 8 percent, the pace of growth needed to break the poverty trend.
“The solution is not to ban mining but to control it,” he said.
“We must have mining. It’s just impossible to live without mines and you can’t say do it somewhere else. It’s un-Christian,” Wallace said.
Wallace, an Australian expatriate and longtime Philippine resident, said that if the Philippines were to harness mining, it would create hundreds of thousands more jobs, build more roads and bring basic utilities like water and electricity to the communities.
But if the government were to ban mining, illegal mining would still exist, he said.
Brimo said mining, tourism and agriculture were not mutually exclusive and these industries could co-exist with each other.
Brimo also shrugged off concerns on the environmental footprint of mining, noting that it’s very difficult to find viable mining sites anywhere in the world.
He noted that only 62,000ha, or 0.2 per cent of the land mass in the country was covered by mining claims.
Out of every 25,000 mining prospects in the world, only 500 will be seriously explored and only one will become a live mining project, he said.
“Our mines in Padcal and Surigao are hardly suitable for tourism, simply because they don’t have the features of an attractive tourist site. And even if tourism were possible, we must ask: Are the expected returns from tourism comparable to the benefits which mining can provide?” Pangilinan said.
“Mining is not the enemy, poverty is,” he said.
Pangilinan also said a government plan to introduce the concept of “total economic value,” or TEV, in assessing mining opportunities was “intangible, elusive and extremely subjective.”
“How does one quantify and test the value attached to the beauty of a sunset, the feel of early morning mist or the music of water rippling through a stream?” he said.
Industry not perfect
In his presentation, Pangilinan admitted that the mining industry was not perfect, which sometimes leads to perception that mining is dangerous and destructive. He suggested the following:
That national and local policies on mining need to be harmonized and the cooperation of local government units must be procured in order to subject small-scale miners to the same regulation as large-scale miners;
That the capacity and competence of state regulators be improved, particularly in regard to equipment and quantity and quality of regulatory staff;
That there must be an independent environmental commission responsible for supervising and enforcing environmental concerns;
That the private sector be open to a profit-sharing scheme which will assure the government of a more appropriate share in the benefits derived from resources; and
That mining benefits between host local government units and the national government be shared more equitably. -- Inquirer