Monday, March 06, 2006

Chamber of mines refutes Bishops' pastoral statement on mining

For the stakeholders of the country’s mining industry, the call of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) for the repeal of the Mining Act and the closure of all large-scale mining operations throughout the country came as a shock. They thought all along that the issues related to mining have long been settled since they have been debating them at the country’s courts for almost two decades. In this interview, Nelia Halcon, executive vice president of Chamber of Mines in the Philippines, clarified the issues against the industry and reported on the ongoing dialogue between the industry and the bishops to thresh out their differences. Excerpts:

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines issued a statement calling for the repeal of the Mining Act. What do you think are the repercussions of this statement?

We were caught flat-footed when they issued that statement because for us in the industry, it is a case won already. The Mining Act was promulgated from 1986 to 1994. That means a span of almost 10 years. It was debated by all policy makers, including Congress, until in 1995. It was promulgated and signed into law by no less than President Fidel V. Ramos. And then after that, the DENR issued rules and regulations for the Mining Act. And in 1996, Marcopper tailings spill in Marinduque was blown out of proportion and so what DENR did was amend some of the provisions of the rules and regulations, 60 percent of which is about environmental protection.

So we felt that with that law and with all the safety nets already provided in the amended rules and regulations, we can move on. Then as soon as that amended IRR [implementing rules and regulations] was signed, an NGO questioned the law at the Supreme Court and it took the Supreme Court nine years to resolve the Mining Act only to be declared unconstitutional. So we requested for an intervention in behalf of the industry so that we can say everything we wanted to say. We also requested for an oral argument so that all the issues can be ventilated with all the justices around. And that happened en banc. They were there—all the justices—and we were all there also including some members of the Cabinet. All the questions were raised and answered by our lawyers and by the NGOs.

We also asked that the Supreme Court make a constitutional review because what is in the law was listed verbatim from the Constitution. And so we fought hard just to say that it is constitutional and rarely does the Supreme Court reverse itself and it was reversed. So with that, we felt that all the branches of government are now pushing for implementation at this time when we really have to propel our economy, get a resource that is indigenous to the country, unlike the electronics industry or the garments where the value added is only labor. This one, the value added will be almost 100 perhaps or maybe 5-percent imported, the rest, all coming from the Philippines. So we thought, we feel until now that the case is won. So their statement is a rehash of old issues. They made that in 1997, why make it now again?

And what do you think?

I don’t know. I really do not know but what I can say is they may unconsciously or consciously know that they are already being used by the Left. Why? Because if you open up the bundok [the mountains], what will become of the lairs of the NPA? And you know some of these people really want the people to remain poor and poor people are vulnerable.

They say that the “social cost of mining far outweighs the economic benefits.” How do you usually answer that?

When they think that the social cost outweighs mining’s economic benefits, I really don’t know what they mean by that. What they always say are dislocation, environmental degradation, and effects on culture of the people, especially the IP [indigenous peoples]. But then, how do you really look at progress or development vis a vis culture? Culture changes, and it changes for the better. So, I would like the CBCP to define what they really mean and back it up with factual information.

Is the Chamber of Mines doing something to counter CBCPs’ statement?

We are for dialogue and we’re working on that first at the local level because this is where the mining projects are located but we also are trying to contact or talk to CBCP. We tried that actually during the time of Gerry Brimo in 1997 or 1998 but they backed out at the last minute. We were not on the way to Tagaytay [venue of the dialogue] yet they backed out without any reason. But now, we are again doing that through Bernie Villegas [economics professor of the University of Asia and the Pacific, an Opus Dei-affiliated institution] and other people who have a clear perspective on the mining industry.

How many jobless people there will be?

About 200,000 direct workers. Multiply that times four or six per family. How many will that be? More than a million will be jobless. They were surprised. So I asked them, “what do you really want?” And then mining projects are ongoing now and it is an agreement between the company and the government. Can government unilaterally say sorry? There will be damages.

Do you think the Bishops have constituency in Congress regarding this issue?

No. Only the party-list groups.

How about the usual claim that Baguio that used to be a mining area did not prosper despite massive investment in mining?

You know why? I told them that first, these people are provided free housing, free light and water, free everything in the mining community. They thought those benefits will last forever so they became complacent. They did not save.

Also, the taxes that come from the mining companies have always gone to the national government. So the local government didn’t get any share from the national. Under the Local Government and the Mining Act they are supposed to get 40 percent share. But they money were not given to them. We lobbied Congress. So now under the 2006 GAA the share of the LGUs will be paid directly to the local government. Unfortunately, they still don’t get their share but we really lobbied hard for it.

Well, you can’t seem to get through the criticism regarding the Marcopper Mine disaster.

Nobody wants that to happen. It is an accident. It’s just like an airplane crash. When an airplane crashes, do you tell the airplane company to stop operations? You don’t. But it became a highly politicized issue.

The Lafayette tailings spill issue is also brewing.

Lafayette is a drop in the bucket. Some tailings was released but not as much as Marcopper. But the issue was blown out of proportion. But then, of course, the company is accountable for that and they said ‘We are responsible for this and we will not operate until government says OK, all the requirements have been met by your company, you can now operate.’ But now, they’re not operating. They are rehabilitating and they’re doing everything.

Any prognosis on the prospects of the industry?

Exploration activities are going on, even in NPA-infested areas. We’re not that much affected by political problems. The prospects are great. In terms of operations, from the 24 projects we are talking about, apat na yung nag ooperate. Coral Bay, Lafayette, Teresa Gold ng Lepanto at TVI Mining sa Cabanatuan. Tapos out of the 35 exploration activities that we’ve been promoting, 10 now have joint venture partners. That means risk capital is coming in and that’s important.

Related posts

Let’s put science in the debate on mining

Bishops admit they don’t have technical knowledge on mining

A point-by-point analysis of the Bishops’ pastoral statement on mining

The Bishops want to close the mines!

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