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‘Fair’ mining policy assured

Palace to conduct more talks after heated mining forum

FACE-OFF Business tycoon Manny V. Pangilinan and environmental advocate Gina Lopez exchange sharp words on mining issues during the open forum of the Conference on Mining’s Impact on the Philippine Economy and Ecology at the Hotel Intercontinental in Makati City on Friday. A visibly peeved Pangilinan takes his seat as Lopez asks for more time to answer him. MVP retorts: I didn’t say that. Now, you’re lying. LYN RILLON

With the volatile divisions on the issue of mining coming to the fore at the industry stakeholders’ forum last Friday, the Aquino administration has seized on another reason for delaying a decision on a comprehensive mining policy for the country.

Friday’s mining forum which pitted pro- and antimining advocates against each other was an attempt to thresh out the issues and, coincidentally help President Benigno Aquino III to come up with a decision that would be acceptable to all.

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Earlier on Thursday, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima said the government was looking at “various models and alternatives in the hope that this can be done so that all the interests of the different sectors are addressed.”

The Aquino administration, in reviewing the country’s mining policy, wants the government to get a “fair share” of the revenues generated from the highly lucrative industry, he said.

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“The goal of President Aquino is to make doing business in the Philippines more efficient, easier for businessmen in particular those who are not as familiar as local businessmen,” Purisima said.

“It [mining forum] showed us how complicated the issues related to mining are,” said deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte in an interview with state-run dzRB radio, as she announced that Malacañang would have to conduct further consultations with  interested sectors.

“Seeing that the matter [has] generated heightened emotions—many stakeholders are weighing in, many interests involved, many points of view—the government has to take all these into consideration [to] come up with a policy that is fair to all,” Valte said.

“That’s why we have to go back and continue consultations with various stakeholders,” she said.

Concern over draft EOs

The administration has failed  to meet Mr. Aquino’s self-imposed February deadline for coming out with a final executive order spelling out the country’s policy on mining.

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Mr. Aquino last January assured foreign business groups and industry stakeholders that the government would come out with a mining policy that would be fair to all after they expressed concern over several draft executive orders going around that outlined proposed mining reforms which they deemed to be disadvantageous to existing mining companies and discouraging to “responsible investors.”

Purisima said the mining industry was one of the areas that could help accelerate the country’s economic growth.

“Unfortunately in the past, the way the laws were implemented, it was not a true win-win situation where the government actually was not able to get its fair share from mining activities,” Purisima said.

He said revenues collected from the mining industry amounted to just a little over P2 billion against total revenues of over P1.2 trillion.

“So when you look at that and, at the same time, the impact to the communities that host it and the environment adjacent to it, you really have to ask yourself whether the way we’re implementing it is what we describe as a responsible way of harnessing the wealth of the country,” Purisima said.

Industry claims disputed

Church and militant groups opposed to mining on Saturday disputed the claims made by the promining groups at the conference that mining may yet prove to be the Philippines’ ticket out of poverty.

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines National Secretariat for Social Action, took issue with businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan, chairman of Philex Mining, for claiming that mining would help pull the poor out of poverty.

“Mining makes more people poor. I’m sure those who engage in mining have not come to help the poor. They have come to get the resources of the country and if there is any help for the poor, it’s very minimal,” Pabillo said.

He said businessmen were always after profit. “This is business and business does not come to help the poor. It’s to get profit,” he said.

Pabillo said mining should not be encouraged because government was not capable of monitoring and preventing environmental problems caused by mining.

“Once they get the minerals, (the land) is no more. It is destroyed,” Pabillo said.

Stop bragging

Pabillo said the country’s untapped mining resources did not belong only to the present generation of Filipinos.

“These untapped mining resources are not only for us. It’s for all the Filipinos and for the incoming generations. If we destroy that, we will be leave nothing for the incoming generations,” he said.

“Mining industry leaders cum land grabbers and environmental plunderers should stop bragging of mining as a big ticket out of poverty,” said Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP).

So long as the mining industry’s orientation serves the interests of foreign and local capital, Philippine mining will continue to be the main culprit in rural poverty and environmental destruction, said the KMP spokesperson, Antonio Flores.

Contrary to the claims of industry representatives, mining has displaced farmers and caused “environmental havoc in farmlands and communities,” he said.

“The minerals extracted from our lands were only used for the benefit of big businesses like miners who also monopolize the telecom industry,” Flores said.

Contribution insignificant

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said the benefits of mining are belied by its insignificant contribution to the national economy.

“Truth is, so long as the mining is geared towards exports and so long as the overall economy is dependent on foreign investments and imports, the mining industry will only serve the interests of private profits and will never lead to national development and industrialization,” he said.

Reyes said that mining remains an extractive industry that “does little to develop the economy” and that foreign mining firms and their local counterparts were merely interested in the export of the country’s mineral resources.

“Mining can only contribute to national development if it is part of a program for national industrialization. This would require a reorientation of the export-oriented, import-oriented, foreign investment-led, debt-and-remittance-driven economy,” he said.

First posted 12:35 am | Sunday, March 4th, 2012

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