Senator Cynthia Villar, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, is pushing for more investment in downstream processing in the mining industry to generate more employment.
“There is no denying the fact that the mining industry generates employment and helps in poverty reduction measures of the government. What I want to see happening is the creation or development of more domestic processing facilities to generate more local employment,” Villar said in her speech during the 2016 Mining Philippines International Conference and Exhibition.
It is necessary for the country to have its own smelters and other downstream processing plants in line with the Duterte administration’s industrialization program, according to the senator.
The lawmaker, however, admitted it would take many years before the plan could be realized, adding that the government should now start creating a roadmap as part of its long-term plan for the industry.
“It’s more of a long-term plan. But as the country develops, we need to have more downstream processing here,” she said.
Industry stakeholders should study various models of mining, particularly on banning raw ore exports to see how it can apply to the country and benefit our people, Villar added.
The Philippines imports steel and stainless steel products despite the availability of basic minerals to manufacture these products in the country.
COMP Executive Vice President Nelia Halcon echoed Villar’s position, saying that the government must provide an enabling environment to attract mining investors.
“You cannot do it overnight, you have to come up with economic feasibility study that would give both the investors and the government the benefit,” Halcon said.
“Nasa political will and financial will ng government because it will always be a PPP [public-private partnership], pagdating sa ganyang kalaking industriya,” she added.
Downstream processing plants should be more of an encouragement rather than compulsory, she said, citing the backlash of Indonesia’s ban on raw ore export.
“I don’t think you should impose, just like what Indonesia did. Nagkagulo sila and hindi lahat nakasunod dun sa imposition nila,” she said.
Indonesia has said it will relax next year its ban on partially processed minerals exports, including copper, nickel, zinc and bauxite ore order to prop up its economy. It imposed a ban on metal ore exports in early 2014 to improve returns on resources shipped out of the country by developing smelters that would add value to resources and create jobs.
But the ban cost billions of dollars in lost revenue to Southeast Asia’s largest economy and one of the top nickel ore exporters and a major supplier of bauxite.
The mining industry is now synchronizing its development plan with the industrialization program of government.
However, there is a need for the Duterte administration to provide incentives to jumpstart the program, including the establishment of PEZA zones and other tax incentives, the COPM official said.
Villar is confident that the industry will realize its goal of “advancing the interest of mining, quarrying, and mineral processing companies for the efficient exploration, development, and utilization of minerals in line with sound economic, environmental, and social policies of the minerals, metals and ores industry.”
She urged the industry to reach out to lawmakers in order to be able to pass meaningful legislations for the benefit of the industry and the country.
“As we all very well know, any talk about the mining sector or industry is invariably linked with the environment because it is dealing with natural resources. It is crucial that we strike a sustainable balance between economic gains and environment protection. Thus, the emphasis on mining companies’ compliance with strict standards and other sustainable strategies,” she said.
The value of mineral resources in the Philippines is over $1 trillion. But the country is utilizing less than one percent of its mineral wealth.
According to the 2011-2016 Philippine Development Plan, of the country’s 9 million hectares endowed with high mineral potential, only 2.7 percent is covered by mining permits and only 0.32 percent is in the development or operating stage. This translates to only 28,800 hectares with actual mining or exploration activities.
“But as I have been reiterating, the further development of mining should not be at the expense of our environment. For instance, what is inviting the ire of President Duterte are the violators of safety standards.
There are still complaints about environmental degradation, denudation of forests, coastal destruction, failure to implement progressive rehabilitation among others,” she said.
“But I was so surprised that with so little, you are being blamed for environmental degradation. Maybe you should ask trade organizations to make a study on what is really causing environmental degradation. You and the illegal miners should be differentiated so that you would not be blamed,” she added.