Promotion of responsible large-scale mining industry alongside agriculture development will uplift the lives of 75 percent of the country’s poor, an economist at the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P) said.
Dr. Bernardo Villegas, vice president of the UA&P and co-founder of the Center for Research and Communications (CRC), said that large-scale mining industry is primed to develop the countryside and should be promoted alongside agriculture to help an estimated 21 million Filipinos who reside in remote and rural areas.
“It is obvious that mineral resources are usually in the boondocks, in the most remote areas. And it’s also obvious that 75 percent of the poor, those who belong to the so-called base of the pyramid, are in the countryside and rural areas. So if we are going to benefit the poor, we must have economic activities in the countryside,” Villegas said.
He stressed that it would be prejudicing the poorest of the poor if investment activities like mining and agriculture in the countryside will be prevented, adding that both industries are “in the same category of having a direct contribution to addressing the poverty problem.”
“In fact, having urban poor, a clear and present concern for Metro Manila and other cities across the country, is really a result of not having done enough in the countryside,” Villegas said.
“Why are they [urban poor]here? Because they have nothing to do in the countryside,” Villegas said.
The Harvard-educated professor, who specializes in development economics, business economics and social economics, said that preventing mineral resources from being developed will only result to more people in Manila who are informal settlers
“That will definitely be a disservice to the country,” he said, noting that mining and agriculture is also not an “either-or situation” because most mine sites are in remote areas that are not arable or fit for farming.
“I’m not saying mining should be everywhere. But I’m sure it can be proven by experts that a lot of the areas where there are mineral ores are not agricultural areas. So we should really promote both agriculture and mining operations,” he added.
Villegas cited Masbate Gold Project, which a team from CRC and UA&P studied since April 2007, as one example of how responsible mining can develop the countryside.
He said that by 2011, the MGP’s total economic impact amounted to P15.8 billion on the national level and P9.96 billion in the Bicol Region to which Masbate province belongs, said Villegas.
“That’s another thing about a mining company: it does make a contribution to the nation, it has a national impact. And in addition, it has a regional impact,” he said.
“Again, you cannot measure the significance of a mining activity only by looking at its national impact or only its regional impact; you have to take the two together,” he added.
By the time the MGP engaged in drilling and ore-refining activities in 2009, Villegas said that the project generated an average of 1,245 direct and indirect jobs per month, said Villegas, with around 70 percent of those employed residents of Masbate.
A total of 14,227 jobs were created nationally during the MGP’s construction and development stage, and another 15,664 during the mining and processing stages, of which 54 percent were employed from the Bicol region, the economist added.
“The economic activities induced by the MGP are indirectly responsible for creation of economic value through its supply chain so this is again a reference to the forward and backward linkages [created by mining],” Villegas said.
“Higher household incomes directly and indirectly resulting from mining activities also stimulated further spending in Masbate and Bicol and thus economic production,” he added.
Villegas said that the responsible mining’s multiplier effect, both regionally and nationally, is supported by the fact that when a mining company locates in the boondocks, it’s the one that has to build the farm-to-market roads, it has to build water facilities, sometimes it’s the one providing electricity.
“And those people [in remote areas], they would never have those amenities without the mining investment,” added the economist, who has advised five Philippine presidents and numerous local officials.