THE mining industry will always remain a major pillar of the Philippines eco-nomy, a management consultancy firm specializing on mining said.

Challenging President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent remark that minerals development sector is already a sunset industry, the president and CEO of Amdgy Consultancy, Deogracias Contreras, said that there will never be a sunset in the local mining industry.

Speaking at a roundtable discussion at Lido, Contreras cited the country’s increasing need for both metallic and non-metallic resources to keep the economy moving forward.

“Since the dawn of time, we have been mining. Mining is not just metallic, it also includes non-metallic and energy,” he pointed out.

President Duterte had vowed to limit mining operations in an effort to preserve what is left of the country’s natural resources.

The Philippines is the fourth mineral-rich country in the world. However, the government has yet to harness the full potential of these resources, both metallic and non-metallic mineral, which at current market prices is estimated at about P73.47 trillion.

Duterte stressed that the government can do away with the billions of pesos collected from the mining industry, which is often perceived as environmentally destructive.

In defense of the large-scale mining companies, Contreras said that poor governance either due to an absence of a regulatory framework or a lack of capacity to enforce existing frameworks remains to be the biggest hurdle for the minerals development sector.

He also blamed the negative perception on the mining industry to artisanal and small-scale mining sector, which often poorly regulated by local authorities.

“The culture of corruption still exists [in the sector],” Contreras said.

“It’s sad to say, but where there is large-scale mining, there’s always small-scale mining activities,” he said, adding that this situation may have played a role in the negative perception of large-scale miners.

The sector is also often viewed as contributing to social conflict, human rights violations, environmental degradation, and commonly lacks adequate health and safety practices.

At present, there are about 300,000 to 400,000 small-scale miners operating in 40 mineral-rich provinces nationwide. All of them are operating illegally.

But unlike ASM activities, Contreras large-scale mining is governed by a wide range of regulatory controls and permits, requiring them to meet various international standards for them to operate in their host communities.

Contreras’ statement was echoed by Philippine Mine Safety and Environment Association (PMSEA) President Louie Sarmiento, saying that safety remained within mining concession areas and their host communities remained to be the top priority for large-scale mining companies.

“They are governed by very strict standards,” Sarmiento said, adding that large-scale miners have to meet international standards.

PMSEA, as mandate by Pesidential Order No.399, is an award-giving body, which recognizes mining companies with exemplary performance in environmental management, safety and health, and social development and management programs.

The awards included the 2015 Presidential Mineral Industry Environmental Award, the highest award conferred to mining companies as evaluated by an eight-member selection committee from the government and the private sector.

Asked whether PMSEA awardees will be able to pass the ongoing mine audit, Sarmiento said that they are confident with their selection of winners, adding that “it is a very prestigious and we don’t want it to be tainted with any irregularities.”

“However, we have to qualify the suspension. Because, like in any other audit, there are certain levels of conformity, audit period, and criteria to be followed,” he added.

He stressed that PMSEA, the forerunner in the promotion of occupational safety and health, sound environmental management and social responsibility in the minerals industry, remains commited to its “responsible mining” mantra.

Environment Secretary Leo Jasareno, citing previous meetings between two mining executives and DENR Secretary Regina Paz Lopez, said that mining companies will have to submit to the audit to earn the “responsible miner” badge.

“Secretary Lopez asked ‘Is there really a responsible miner? Can there be poster boys?”

The former Mines and Geoscience Bureau director also said that the audit will be fair, and has a transparent criteria.

“There is also enough mechanism for grievance,” he said, that suspended mining companies can file an appeal.