Mining as engine of economic growth

Val Villanueva1No sooner had President-elect Rodrigo R. Duterte stated that irresponsible mining must go that the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) declared its full support to rid the country of reckless miners.

Citing mainly his dismay at “big mining companies,” which he said are “spoiling the land and destroying Mindanao,” Duterte warned that they had to shape up or face expulsion. He, however, clarified he was not against mining per se, and was for responsible mining that advocates the most rigorous of environmental criteria.

He got full backing from the COMP, which has also been advocating for a “full stop against illegal and irresponsible mining in the country, which poses a threat to the community and the environment.”

“This has always been COMP’s position, as we continue to find ways to strengthen our programs in social development and management to include indigenous peoples [IPs] and environmental enhancement,” the chamber said in a statement.

“We commit to work hand in hand with the incoming administration to help address concerns in our industry so that we may promote true inclusive growth around the country,” it added.

The country has the world’s second-largest gold reserves. The queue of foreign investors who wish to tap its vast mineral reserves is getting longer, with each one eager to extract gold and other precious metals that lie beneath the ground. At the moment, mining contributes a miniscule percentage to the Philippine economy.  Access to the $1.4-trillion mining sector, which is rich also in copper and nickel, has been elusive, mired since the 1980s in irrelevant local laws, environmental battles and land-rights issues.

For several years now, environmentalists, politicians and media have made it trendy to oppose all forms of mining. Ironically, mining exists because people consume products that are made from by-products of mining. Mining is literally the bedrock of civilization. That the industry’s critical future impacts on mankind’s quality of life shouldn’t be debated at all.

Almost everything that people use—household appliances, computers, farm implements, transport vehicles, mobile phones, beauty and hygiene items, medicines, fertilizers, etc.—is a mineral product or relies upon minerals and metals for production and distribution. In order to maintain the lifestyle and security that a modern society enjoys, the mining industry must continue on a course of healthy production and exploration into the future.

In the Philippines the mining industry has been rocked by strong negative criticisms in recent years. Unwanted fears, real or perceived, have created for the industry an image of an environmental despoiler. Forgotten is the fact that mining has been, is and will continue to be a significant contributor to the country’s economic growth. But because mining companies have such a huge impact on local economies, they feel an even larger responsibility to help sustain a high quality of life in their host communities. Modern mining that is conducted responsibly will undoubtedly provide a more efficient and sustainable future for both the industry and the country.

Mining has gone a long way toward this end. In many parts of the world, the mining industry has proven to be a partner of communities in environmental protection and social development. Some call it sustainable mining in which, among other things, the mining company is tasked to re-develop the area and ensure that communities thrive long after the company has extracted the minerals it needs.  According to a study made by the Mining Association of British Columbia, “Mining represents the highest value use to which a hectare of land can be utilized.”

Antimining groups are forcing their own agenda down the throats of IPs who have been wanting of progress and development to alleviate their sorry plight. For this, I blame the government’s lack of political will to enforce the law. How can a provincial ordinance banning mining be superior to the Republic Act that allows responsible mining? In Mindoro there is a moratorium on mining, but not illegal logging, the kaingin system (or the slash-and-burn agricultural technique) and negligent solid-waste disposal. In January of this year, for instance, the DENR intercepted a truck full of illegal logs.

Antimining groups just can’t accept the cold fact that the world can’t do without mining, and that responsible mining is the main driver of economic growth in most developed nations. All the conveniences that we enjoy today are all because of how we have harnessed minerals extracted from the soil: when you ride a bike (iron and aluminum); when you brush your teeth (limestone and fluorite); when you use a computer (gold and some other 34 metals); when you build a house (cement, gypsum, iron); when you cook a meal (iron, aluminum,  nickel and steel);  when you go rollerblading (limestone); when you wear makeup (mica); when you ride a car (iron, aluminum, chrome, molybdenum, copper and many others);  when you set the table (silver, nickel, steel); when you play golf (tungsten, aluminum); when you plug in for power (coal and copper), or charge your mobile phone (nickel, cobalt and lithium); when you get a chest x-ray (uranium), or when a priest drinks wine from the chalice (bronze, copper, silver). While I have yet to see a priest scoop up wine with his hands during Holy Mass, some members of the clergy who claim to be environmentally concerned have been vociferous in their opposition of mining.

Antimining groups and individuals who want all mining activities to cease must first stop using all the by-products of mining and the benefits it provides. That is the only time they will make sense.

For comments and suggestions, e-mail me at [email protected].

 

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