‘Miners can do better’

At least 20 mining and quarrying companies that excelled in various aspects of operations were cited for their best practices during the 64th Annual National Mine Safety and Environment Conference (ANMSEC) held in Baguio City last month.

Two companies—SR Metals Inc. and Coral Bay Nickel Corp.—were conferred the prestigious Presidential Mineral Industry Environmental Award (PMIEA), the highest award and recognition for best-industry practice in the Philippines.

In Photo: Miners check seedlings in one of the tree nurseries of AMVI in its mine site. The company produces over 280,000 seedlings a year in the tree nurseries. The company has grown 214,742 seedlings in 187 hectares.

The awarding, highlighted in the annual mining conference, was witnessed by over 3,000 delegates representing government, mining companies and other stakeholders, including executives from companies in mining-related industries, academe, local government and non-governmental organizations.

A week later Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corp. and OceanaGold Philippines Inc., the only entries of the Philippines in the first Asean Minerals Awards, bagged the Best Practice in Minerals Mining and Best Practice in Minerals Processing awards, respectively.

Environmental destruction 

Despite having world-class mines, the mining industry, particularly those that are into large-scale mining operations, face strong opposition in the Philippines because of the massive environmental destruction and degradation linked to mining.

Environmental and anti-mining groups like Alyansa Tigil Mina said large-scale mining operations continue to cause massive destruction of forest ecosystems, causing the deterioration of watersheds and pollution of water bodies; adversely affecting the way of life of people in mining-affected communities.

The Duterte administration, with his Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu, have expressed dismay over the mining companies’ “failures” in terms of caring for the environment and affected communities.

In his speech during the 64th ANMSEC and PMIE Awards Night on November 24, Cimatu challenged the industry to go beyond crafting slogans about responsible mining by actually showing how it is done.

“Let me make our position very clear as mandated by the Constitution and the existing laws. No less than President Duterte has declared in no uncertain terms that the administration is for responsible mining,” Cimatu said.

He added that responsible mining, as Duterte intends to see it, must be people-oriented and provide decent jobs. It must protect and enhance the environment, not run over the rights and welfare of indigenous people, must contribute its fair share to national income and must transform itself into a world-class industry.

Best practices

Large-scale mining companies, which started operation when Republic Act 7942, or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, took effect are required to do progressive rehabilitation.

That means companies must simultaneously do rehabilitation of mined-out areas, particularly reforestation, while extracting minerals in other areas.

Besides their corporate social-responsibility programs and projects, all mining companies are also required to have 1.5 percent of the total mining and milling costs of the company monetized and placed in a trust fund to be used for various programs and projects for mining-impact areas.

Of the amount, 75 percent must be spent on community-development programs; 15 percent on mining technology and geosciences advancement programs; and 10 percent on information, education and communication program.

Several mining companies are known for best practices in different aspects or fields of mining operations, including environmental programs that involve mine rehabilitation and reforestation.

Industry best

The Agata Mining Ventures Inc. (AMVI)—a joint venture between TVI Resource Development Philippines Inc. (TVIRD) and MRL Nickel Philippines—is “an industry best” in upholding the highest safety and environmental standards.

AMVI was honored with back-to-back awards: the PMIEA-Platinum Award in the Surface Mining Operation Category and the Best Mining Forest Award (second runner-up) in the Metallic Mining Operation Category.

The mining venture maintains an impressive 97.12-percent survival rate of its cultivated plants at the Agata Project.

After a series of field validations, the committee that conducted an audit of AMVI’s operation shortlisted it for the PMIEA-Platinum Award based on its environmental management, including rehabilitation and environmental protection; safety and health, performance and compliance; the implementation of its social-development management programs and its information, education and communication (IEC) programs.

Parallel to this, the Best Mining Forest Award was conferred on AMVI on the merits of its reforestation program: development plan, nursery operation, planting activities, maintenance and protection, biodiversity conservation and IEC and research.

To date, the mining firm has planted over 200,000 trees in and around the Agata Nickel Project area in Tubay municipality, Agusan del Norte province.

It, likewise, conducts continuous environmental awareness activities, such as planting and growing of trees along the riverbanks, watersheds and waste dumps, as well as river and coastal clean-up and waste-segregation activities with community residents and local government units.

AMVI’s coral relocation and coastal resource-management program is the first in the region and was previously recognized with an Outstanding Performance Award by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources .

The company also boasted that since 2010, years before it started operation, it has adopted Kalinawan River, which was inspected by the Intertek Audit Team during an ISO audit along with other smaller tributaries that run through the Agata mineral production sharing agreement. The 29-kilometer Kalinawan River is the cleanest inland body of water in the Caraga region, and possibly in the entire province.

Large scale vs small scale

“For me, the significance of ANMSEC stresses the fact that legitimate large-scale mining companies go by very, very high standard in contrast to illegal mining, which has no standard and does not contribute to the coffers of the government and provide social development for the community and safeguard for the environment,” Kaycee Crisostomo, Corporate Communications and Marketing director at TVIRD told the BusinessMirror in an interview on November 26.

“This is how we can differentiate large-scale legitimate mining from illegal small-scale mining. People don’t know where to throw a punch. We are taking the high road and we are levering on the ANMSEC to do this,” he said.

According to Crisostomo, TVIRD and its joint-venture partner for Agata were able to bag the Titanium Award based on the audit during its first year of operation.

“Even before the company started its operations, it has maintained a high standard and is beyond compliance. We have been planning and doing reforestation in the area years before we brought operations on the stream. Before our operation, we were already reforesting around the areas by planting various native trees that will thrive in the area,” he added.

“Responsibility starts even before mining activities begin. That is how we did in Canatuan in Zamboanga del Norte. We are now at a point in bringing best practices nationwide,” Crisostomo said, referring to the Canatuan mine, which had gone through successful mining operation and rehabilitation.

Continuous improvement

While saying that mining companies continue to improve operational efficiency—for safety and for the environment—the Philippine Mine Safety and Environment Association (PMSEA), which organizes ANMSEC and PMIEA, believe there is always room for improvement.

PMSEA President Louie Sarmiento, in his speech during the awards on November 24 and affirmed in a telephone interview, told the BusinessMirror that the annual ANMSEC and PMIEA aim to encourage all mining companies and relevant industries—including cement and quarrying companies—to do better.

“If the company did not make it this year, as I’ve said in my message, they should strive harder. Maybe the next time, they’ll finally get the prestigious award and recognition,” he said.

Sarmiento said year after year, more companies are joining PMSEA and are actually vying for the awards. This year he said more companies were shortlisted for various awards category.

“This means that they are confident that they are doing the necessary improvement in their operation and that they believe they will qualify for the awards. This is a good sign for the industry,” he said.

On a smaller scale, Sarmiento said PMSEA has created a model for greening with its adoption of a Botanical Garden in Baguio City.

In 2012, he said a portion of the Botanical Garden became a garbage dump. In rehabilitating around 5,000 square meters of the area, about seven trucks to 10 trucks of garbage were removed. The area was rehabilitated by planting indigenous tree species, including botanical plants.

The Botanical Garden is now one of the famous, frequently visited tourist spots in Baguio City.

He said mining companies should work to create a greener environment outside its areas of operation.

“This means that miners can also be responsible caretakers and stewards of the environment,” he added.

Baguio Declaration

Responding to Cimatu’s challenge, as an organization, PMSEA will have a Baguio Declaration next week as a commitment of the industry based on the requirements of responsible mining as defined by Duterte.

“There is always science behind mining operations. And we are glad because it is our part of our advocacy for all mining companies to do better. If we are doing better, we should not be satisfied. We should look at the negatives and correct them. There is no perfect mining operation, that is why we should keep on improving. It is unfair to the industry if you accuse it of being irresponsible. The mining industry has been keeping on improving its operation, and that is very important,” he said.

He said mining companies should always go beyond compliance, which is what a number of companies are actually demonstrating.

“We are doing it already. That is why some companies should open up and show the public what responsible mining is all about. This should erase the perception that mining is irresponsible. Miners can do better,” he added.

Image Credits: TVIRD Philippines Inc.

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