Lifting the mining ban, a bad decision

The recent end of the four-year ban on surface mining in the Philippines is a huge disappointment. Despite empty promises that “adequate safeguards” and “strict regulations” will prevent damage, the ruling elevates the risk of large-scale environmental and social damage almost to the point of inevitability, and completely fails to read the play when. it is about public opinion on the issue of mining.

Obviously, a lot has changed over the past five years because President Duterte, who once openly expressed a deep disgust for the destructive nature of mining and whose first choice to lead the ministry of l He Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) was a true conservationist in person. by the late Gina Lopez, remained silent on the removal of the last significant vestige of Lopez’s brief tenure.

Those with a vested interest in seeing the logging industry revived in the Philippines, however, have certainly not been silent. In a statement released earlier this week, the Joint Foreign Chambers of the Philippines said the government’s decision to end the ban on surface mining was “long overdue” and would encourage investment in the area. country.

According to DENR projections, the resumption of surface mining will lead to the immediate development of 11 pending projects that are expected to generate around 11 billion pesos combined in annual government revenue, increase annual exports by 36 billion pesos and provide jobs for 22,880 people living in remote communities.

This is all well and good, but we believe the costs to achieve these gains are unacceptable and cannot be made acceptable by the very nature of mining. Mineral resources, whether they are metallic ores, coal, petroleum or others, are finite; once removed, they cannot be replaced. To harvest these resources, substantial damage to the environment must be done, and even if the damage is carefully managed and repaired when mining activities cease, the local environment is inevitably altered forever.

Good estimates of the amount of income that can be generated or the number of people that can be employed are only distractions because given the current state of industrial development in the Philippines, any mining that takes place here is equivalent to exploitation of the most basic form of national wealth for the sake of creating value elsewhere. The Philippines does not have a proper downstream processing, refining and manufacturing industrial sector, which could transform relatively low-value raw materials into high-value products. Our nickel and copper are sent to other countries and sold back to us as imported goods costing hundreds of times what we originally earned.

There is no form of economics, not even elementary mathematics, in which this arrangement makes sense, and yet we are there. Even then, it might be achievable if the exported raw materials were something sustainable, like agricultural products that can be produced over and over again, but this is not the case with minerals. Once they’re gone, the income, exports, and jobs that mining proponents now so happily promise are now. And that’s the best of times, taking the DENR and mining industry funders at their word that “adequate safeguards” and “strict regulations” will indeed be rigorously maintained to avoid a costly environmental catastrophe.

With the move already an apparent fait accompli, however, the country appears to have no choice but to make the most of it. Thus, the interests of the DENR and the mining industry must be held strictly accountable for the impacts and results of mining activities. Any investment in mining must be matched with an equal investment in sustainable development for affected communities, infrastructure and economic opportunities that will remain in place and develop long after mining has ceased. Likewise, all environmental damage must be repaired, and not just in terms of immediate cleanup, but over the long term to restore mining areas to their original state.

Most importantly, consultation and engagement with affected communities must be direct and transparent, and communities’ decisions must be scrupulously respected. The mining industry must never forget that its access to the nation’s wealth is a matter of privilege, not of right, and must be compelled to conduct itself accordingly.

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