SENATOR Grace Poe-Llamanzares on Tuesday urged the country’s mining lobby to continue pushing for environmentally and socially responsible mineral development and to ensure that gains from finite resources translate into sustainable wealth that will benefit future generations.
In her speech during the Mining Philippines 2014 Conference and Exhibition, Poe said that the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) should continue its efforts to improve and enhance the quality of life of the people through “inclusive growth.”
“As good corporate citizens, you in the mining sector have a moral obligation to ensure that your extractive activities do as little damage to the environment as possible. The general idea is: when your mine runs out, your company must be able to say that they left the people and the community better than they were when they first began working together,” Poe said.
The senator noted that the Philippine mining industry has the potential to become one of the key proponents of economic growth over the next 25 years, citing the “staggering” amount of mineral wealth in the country.
According to Poe, the country has more than $1.4 trillion worth of recoverable mineral resources and has the second largest gold deposits in the world after South Africa. It also has massive deposits of silver, copper, chromite and zinc.
“And this $1.4 trillion valuation does not even include possible resources in Benham Rise off the eastern seaboard of Luzon Island,” she added.
But the fact that these minerals have remained underground indicates there must be something wrong with the system, she said.
“For one, the Philippine mining sector suffers from a public perception problem.
To some extent, all forms of extractive businesses are not exactly popular anywhere in the world. But in the Philippines, people’s perception of mining is colored through the prism of post-colonialism rhetoric, environmental disasters, and a lack of transparency in the mining industry,” she said.
To address people’s negative perceptions, Poe said large-scale mining companies should foster greater transparency and openness in the mining industry as the Philippine legislature fast-tracks efforts to design a new revenue-sharing scheme that will deliver a more equitable distribution of benefits from mining.
Poe said that more than $12 billion in possible mining investments are on hold as the legislature debates the new mining revenue scheme, a delay the Philippines can ill afford.
The senator also believes that many of the current problems of the mineral sector can be solved once the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill is passed by Congress as it would foster an open environment wherein transparency and accountability are the norm.
“I am also fully supportive of the Philippine Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative [PH-IETI] because it promotes greater transparency in the mining sector,” she said.
Aside from full disclosure of contracts, Poe also encouraged the mining industry to “publish what you pay.”
At present, 40 of the 51 mining firms operating in the Philippines have already allowed the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) to inspect their financial records.
“I think it is to your interest to inform the people how much exactly you are returning to the people in terms of taxes, jobs generated, livelihood, CSR [corporate social responsibility]projects, etc.,” she said.
“Moreover, since most mines only have a 30-year lifespan, you must also provide the people of your community with livelihood alternatives and skills training programs to prepare them for the day when your mines cease operations,” she added.
Benjamin Philip Romualdez, COMP president, expressed full support for Poe’s thrust for transparency in the mining industry.
“The industry views with optimism the many moves to change the policy regime. We trust that the House of Representatives and the Senate will put the best interests of nation-building and economic development in their hearts . . . It is our prayer that Congress and the Senate write the best laws to enhance the business of mining, alleviate the economic condition of the people who rely on it, while protecting the environment—to sustain other human activities after the mining firms have optimized the development of minerals,” Romualdez said.
This year is a crucial year for the Philippine mining industry as the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC), a cabinet committee tasked by the president to oversee the activities of the mining industry, has just submitted to Congress a draft bill to amend Republic Act 7942, better known as “The Mining Act of 1995.”
Despite some reservations about certain amendments in the proposed bill, the Philippine mining industry is confident that the government will develop a policy environment that will take advantage of the momentum created by the development programs anchored on the principles of transparency and good government.