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ALSP Conference on Mining

April 25, 2012

Keynote Speech for ALSP Conference on Mining
Ateneo de Davao University
April 25, 2012

Scattered in the breadth and depth of about one-third of the country’s total land mass are minerals. Around fourteen million hectares of the total 30 million hectares of Philippine soil contain copious amounts of mineral reserves. Even the country’s offshore areas covering about 2.2 million square kilometers contain minerals such as gold, magnetite and chromite-bearing sands, aggregate resources like sand and gravel, decorative stones, and polymetallic sulfide deposits.
Under the present Constitution, the regime of natural resources – in particular the non-renewable mineral resources – is synthesized in the fundamental principle that these are owned by the State which translates to sovereignty of the people over mineral resources.
At once, I would like to invite your concern to this enigma which has entrapped the entire nation.
Our abundance in mineral deposits has ranked the Philippines as the 5th mineralized country in the world, 3rd in gold reserves, 4th in copper, and 5th in nickel.
But if we are so rich, why are we hungry? Are our people impoverished by the richness of the country’s mineral wealth? Is the utilization of our mineral resources undermining the nation’s progress?
The enigma deepens as the nation lives through the 21st century, with the consciousness that mineral resources are the patrimony of the Filipino people. And that these resources are the elements of statehood to be devoted to the subsistence and prosperity of the present generation of Filipinos in the manner that also serves the interest of the country’s future generation.
Today’s Convention presents a unique opportunity to express the overwhelming need to reconcile economic development with the protection of the environment, primarily in mineral resources development.
The business sector claims that the 27 existing large-scale mines cover only 60,000 hectares or 0.2% of the country’s total land area. Mining activities in these sites have contributed 1.3% to our gross domestic product (GDP) in 2009. In 2010, we have exported minerals, mostly copper, gold and nickel, amounting to 1.87 billion US dollars.
In terms of employment share, the minerals industry employed 197,000 workers as of 2010 and for every job in the industry, an estimated four indirect employment opportunities are created.
Given these statistics, we see a seemingly harmless and economically-contributive industry. However, conflicts and concerns arise when we start exploring the effects of these mines on the environment and in the lives of our people especially in communities around mining sites.
We count on the mining companies’ commitment to implement environmental protection and management programs amounting to 27.55 billion pesos as we take note of reports revealing mining companies’ very poor performance in environmental protection and post-mining clean-up. The cost of clean-up of about 800 abandoned mine sites are estimated in billions of dollars but the damage will never be fully reversed.
Certainly, we do not want another tragedy similar to the Marcopper mining disaster in 1996 that left the Boac river biologically dead, or the Rapu-Rapu mine accident in 2005 that resulted in one of the country’s worst mining-related fish kills covering the Albay Gulf and Sorsogon Bay.
We also await significant results from the social development and management programs supposedly committed by mining companies to ensure development of host and neighboring communities as we take note that resource-rich provinces are alarmingly among the poorest areas in the country.
It is lamentable that provinces enjoying large mineral deposits such as Surigao del Norte and Masbate are among the poorest provinces in the Philippines. This is the result of the unabated and unregulated extraction of their mineral resources.
We demand a policy on mining that is far, responsible and sustainable, a fair share of the government from mining activities by private companies, and the accordance of respect and recognition of the rights of our indigenous peoples especially over their ancestral domain.
People’s Ownership of Mineral Wealth
It is beyond doubt that our rich and abundant mineral resources belong, absolutely and unconditionally, to the State and, therefore, the people. Yet, the share received by the State, under the current scheme set forth in the Mining Act, proves to be marginal as private contractors effectively receive the lion’s share in the mining agreements.
Despite being owner of these resources, the government receives a peanut of a share in royalties out of the mining companies, falsifying the concept of State ownership or the people’s ownership.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) estimates that in 2009, mining firms earned about 150 billion pesos, over four hundred-fold of their excise taxes payment of 340 million pesos.
It is time that we vigorously pursue mining agreements that truly reflect the absolute nature of State ownership over our precious natural resources.
Inspired by the words of former Associate Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales, in a landmark case on mining in our lands, I wish to echo her sentiment on this vital issue: “Philippine mineral wealth, viciously wrenched from the bosom of the motherland, has enriched foreign shores while the Filipino people, to whom such wealth justly belongs, have remained impoverished and unrecompensed. Time and time again the Filipino people have sought an end to this intolerable situation.”
Mining and Climate Change
Let me now bring to your attention another emerging concern – the mining activities’ propensity to exacerbate the impacts on climate change, which “could mean economic losses, social dislocation, increased poverty, and adverse mine legacies.”
The design of mining infrastructure based on weather information prior to the projections of climate change may cause disasters of greater magnitude when extreme weather events occur. Meanwhile, intense rainfall could trigger massive erosion especially in areas already prone to landslides. We already have related tragic experiences that we do not wish to happen again.
We recall that on April 22, 2011, a landslide occurred in a small-scale mining community in Pantukan, Compostela Valley, sweeping shanties at the foot of the mountain, burying at least 21 people alive, and killing at least eight miners who were buried beneath the mud.
Earlier this year, in the same small-scale mining community, at least 32 persons were killed in a landslide, triggered by heavy rains.
A geo-hazard map of Pantukan revealed that the mountain region could collapse from high pressure or big movements. Its topography and geological features make it vulnerable to landslides, among other hazards.
In May 2011, a “no habitation policy” was ordered in areas identified as landslide-prone but small-scale miners stayed in the mining sites and placed their lives at risk for a chance of finding gold instead of relocating to safer places.
These instances reveal the need to strictly regulate the mining sector, from small-scale to large-scale operations. As espoused by the DENR in the Philippine Strategy on Climate Change Adaptation, the government must delineate areas suitable for mineral resources development based on scientific information on climate change risks and vulnerability of ecosystems and communities. Community-based management programs of mineralized and mining areas must be reviewed to ensure direct participation of host and climate-vulnerable communities in decision-making. Current and future mining operations and infrastructure must be climate-proof and a communication plan on hazards related to mining and climate change must be implemented.
Towards Responsible and Sustainable Mineral Resources Development
The regulation of the mining industry and enforcement of mining and policies remain a great challenge to the government. Even the private sector has expressed concern about the “quantity and quality of regulatory staff” tasked to monitor big mining projects, exploration projects, small scale mining permits and illegal small-scale mining.
The Philippine Development Plan also sets out several priority actions to manage a more equitable utilization of mineral resources. It prompts the review and harmonization of our current policies including the Philippine Mining Act, the People’s Small-Scale Mining Act, the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act, the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act, and the Local Government Code.
It calls for a comprehensive resource valuation of mining operations, including environmental and social costs and rationalization of the extraction and use of minerals for national development.
It recognizes the need to faithfully review, monitor, and evaluate existing large-scale mining contracts with respect to their compliance with existing rules and regulations.
In addition to all of these, there should be no mining in protected areas, watersheds and vulnerable areas. Moreover, aside from the areas already identified under the Mining Act as closed to mining applications, those areas declared by local government units as no-mining zones should likewise be closed from mining applications and operations. This is the thrust of Senate Bill No. 1365, which I have proposed in the present Congress.
At the end of this forum, concerns will all boil down to these basic questions: What does the State gain from the operation of the Mining Act? How has life improved since its implementation? Are the people harvesting enough from the mineral resources that they rightfully own? Are we protecting our local communities from this extractive industry?
As the government will soon declare its mining policy, let me reiterate that every decision we will make is crucial, it can either build better lives for our people and contribute to national development or cause the destruction of the communities, our environment, and the very lives the State aims to protect.
In closing, I urge you to join my call for the fair, sustainable, and responsible development of the country’s mineral resources and the protection of our people’s right to life and livelihood.
Thank you and good day.