Gov't aims for win-win mining policy

Posted at 03/05/2012 8:47 PM | Updated as of 03/06/2012 8:53 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Mining advocates hail the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 as one of the best mining laws in the world. They cite important provisions, like seeking the consent of indigenous communities and meeting stringent environmental protection, including making sure the mined-out area will remain viable for land use after mining operations.

Of late, anti-mining advocates are calling for a moratorium on mining operations in the country.

Some critics believe mining activities have not been beneficial to communities.

"Mining companies do not mine in order to address povery but to make profit. That's understandable. We can understand self-interest, not self righteousness. You cannot mine unless you disturb the surroundings. Those are what I call economic costs, social costs, environmental costs of mining," former Comelec chairman Christian Monsod, an advocate of responsible mining, told ANC's "Headstart".

Monsod said mining companies have not always lived up to the condition of rehabilitating affected communities.

"Under the present system, no value is put on the minerals, the government just gets 2% excise tax. Instead, the government is paying the contractor to extract the minerals through financial incentives....so there's something unfair about this," he said.

'No fair share'

Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) director Leo Jasareno admitted the government is not getting a fair share of revenue from mining activities in the country.

"It is not receiving a fair share. That's why mining has a low acceptability for communities," he said.

He said it would be inaccurate to say that all mining activities have failed even as anti-mining sentiment rises.

"The bulk of opposition is from the historical record of mining... Most truths on the impacts of mining happened in the past. The Marcopper incident in 1996 is a rallying point. Years since the incident happened, we have not found a way to clean up the area," he said.

Jasareno said the Marcopper incident served as a guide in crafting the Philippine Mining Act of 1995. Under the new law, mining companies should conduct operations guided by the principle of progressive rehabilitation.

"It has to be made clear that not all areas in the country can be mined. We hear complaints that the DENR is allowing mining in protected areas but the truth is protected areas are closed to mining. They are beyond the commerce of man," he said.

"Mining contractors have to find land use for mining, so the productivity of the land continues. For instance, he can bring back the forest use undertake reforestation or the mined-out area can be used for resettlement," he added.

"Every contractor now under the Mining Act is required to put up a social development and management program. A mining company is required to spend 1.5% of operating cost to help communities... In a properly done mining operation, we only open a portion of the area, mine it and rehabilitate then transfer to another area. So, by the time you're done with the last portion, when you look back, you see reforested areas."

Cleaning up mining's mess

To show the public of the positive prospects of mining, Jasareno said the government is determined to resolve the Marcopper problem.

"Cleaning up the Marcopper incident and showing people incidents like this can be resolved by government is one of our priorities," he said.

Efforts are also underway to rehabilitate some 30 other abandoned mines throughout the country.

"At the top of the list is the Bagacay mine in Samar. Before rehabilitation, it was the source of acid drainage to the sea. There were also threats of landslide and siltation... We have spent P50 million and will need P300 million to convert the area into a forest area," he said.

He added a draft executive order on the new mining policy is being formulated, and consultations are ongoing towards enhancing environmental standards and ensuring benefits to government and communities.

"Whether or not mining benefits communities it should be addressed by the mining policy. If both sides are not happy it must be a good policy," he said.