Vol. 8 No. 390
Sunday, March 4, 2012
  Tagbilaran City, Bohol, Philippines

Untouched Treasures

Environmental advocates have been pushing for a total ban of mining operations in the Philippines. They allege that mining has caused irreversible degradation to the environment, posing constant threat to local communities.

It is easy for people to view mining in a negative perspective because it is always an object of blame whenever there is a disaster that has something to do with mining operations, legal or illegal.

In the aftermath of the Comval province landslide, local officials immediately passed an ordinance totally banning gold mining in Pantucan, Compostela. As a result of the law, thousands of residents have lost their only sources of income.

People can always talk all sorts of problems and throw all sorts of blames whenever disaster strikes, but who is talking about solutions? Who is talking about alternatives to lost livelihood?

Mining per se is not a problem - regulation is. Many of the mining companies in the country are operating without proper public consultation because in the first place, decisions on where and when to operate are made by few individuals in the government. If there is public consultation, it is only skin-deep. It does not really address people’s concerns as to what extent mining would affect their lives.

But if regulated properly, mining can bring in tremendous economic benefits to the country. America, for instance, before it became a world economic superpower fueled by research and innovations, was once a mining haven in the world. Before mining came into existence in Britain, mining gold and copper had already started in the US as early as 1705. And as early as 1848, the California Gold Rush term became a magnet for investments.

According to state.gov, the mining potential of the Philippines remains an unexplored trove of treasure. Here’s what the article says:

“The Philippines is one of the world's most highly mineralized countries, with untapped mineral wealth estimated at more than $840 billion. Philippine copper, gold, and chromate deposits are among the largest in the world. Other important minerals include nickel, silver, coal, gypsum, and sulfur. The Philippines also has significant deposits of clay, limestone, marble, silica, and phosphate. Natural gas reserves discovered off Palawan have been brought on-line to generate electricity.”

“Despite its rich mineral deposits, the Philippine mining industry is just a fraction of what it was in the 1970s and 1980s when the country ranked among the 10 leading gold and copper producers worldwide. Low metal prices, high production costs, and lack of investment in infrastructure contributed to the industry's overall decline. A December 2004 Supreme Court decision upheld the constitutionality of the 1995 Mining Act, thereby allowing up to 100% foreign-owned companies to invest in large-scale exploration, development, and utilization of minerals, oil, and gas. Some local government units have enacted mining bans in their territories, citing concerns over environmental degradation, unequal distribution of tax revenue, unemployment caused by displacement of small-scale miners, and marginalization of Indigenous People.”

That sums up the state of mining industry in the country. Our position is that mining can invigorate our economy if it is done well.

Rather than being operated by foreign companies, it is best that the government itself would handle mining operations, perhaps in partnership with some foreign capitalists, and return the profit to our people.

The sad fact is that the Philippines is not benefiting that much from mining operations since most of the raw materials are shipped abroad. Mining can do good to the country if the Filipinos themselves are the investors and the products are used here. But that is not the case. We are just exporters of raw materials, not manufacturers of products taken from mined materials.

The government, though it makes money from taxes, is eventually left on cleaning up the debris and wastes abandoned by foreign mining companies.

The Trial of Unfairness
Self-destructive Rumors
Untouched Treasures
Tiguwang way batasan?

Ang Lubi Nga Akong Gitanom
Bohol’s Economic Revolution