Enrile cites mining-industry potentials

SENATE President Juan Ponce Enrile advised major players in the local mining industry to adopt best practices in their operations to “prevent environmental disasters of catastrophic proportions.”

“Exercise prudence and extreme caution in your mining activities for, if you do otherwise, the environmental and social costs will far outweigh the economic benefits from the mining industry,” Enrile exhorted members of the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (CMP) in his speech at the 2009 Mining Conference and Exhibition held at the Sofitel Hotel in Pasay City yesterday. The CMP conference runs through September 17.

In turn, Enrile assured the CMP of the Senate leadership’s continuing support for the development of the local mining industry.

“If done properly, mining can bring benefits to the national economy and the people,” he added. “I am one of the believers of the benefits that the mining industry can bring to the economy and to our people, only if mining is done responsibly by applying the best practices.” The Senate chief pointed out, however, that mining operations in some parts of the country have already caused severe environmental damage and brought untold economic and social suffering to the people.

Enrile explained that studies done on the impact of mining on the nation’s economy showed that while there are economic benefits to the local community in terms of employment and revenues, “mining also cause many adverse effects on the economy, environment, and the health and safety of the people.”

These include, he said, the eviction and displacement of people, pollution of rivers and streams, destruction of mangroves and coral reefs, and devastation of agriculture land.

But despite these adverse findings, Enrile remained upbeat that the local mining industry would improve with new investments for as long as responsible practices are implemented.

“With more investments pouring in and with adherence to international mining practices and standards, the mining industry will once again become one of the drivers of the Philippine economy,” he added.

Enrile expounded on the economic benefits of mining activities to the local community in terms of employment and revenues which, he said, far outweigh the adverse effects on the economy, environment, and the health and safety of the people.

Noting that the Philippines is geographically situated along the so-called Rim of Fire, he said the country is well endowed with mineral deposits such as copper, chromate, nickel, silver, gold, gypsum, coal, marble and phosphate.

“Today, the Philippines is considered as one of the richest sources of minerals worldwide, with untapped mineral wealth estimated at more than $840 billion,” he said.

During the 1970s, when the Philippine mining industry was at its peak, Enrile recalled that “the country back then was ranked among the 10 leading gold and copper producers in the world. But a confluence of events led to its decline in the latter part of the 20th century.”

Enrile acknowledged, however, that in 2004, “hopes were raised for a resurgence of the industry after the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Mining Act of 1995.”

“Despite the various opposing opinions on this law, it has been widely viewed as a mechanism that will make the mining industry one of the drivers of economic growth,” he added.

Organizers of the three-day mining conference at Sofitel Hotel said the conferees are expected to take up developments in the mining sector not only in the Philippines, but also in other Asian countries.

The Mining Philippines 2009 conference and exhibition is organized with the support of the Minerals Development Council (MDC) under the Office of the President, as well as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB).

NGOs raise alarm

Meanwhile, the Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM), a national coalition of more than 80 organizations composed of mining-affected communities and civil society organizations, yesterday blasted the CMP and the DENR’s international mining exhibition being held at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza Hotel.

The group staged a walking exhibit that illustrated the ill-effects of mining operations happening across the nation.

“We are here to balance out the exhibition on mining organized by the CMP and DENR. For the past years, the CMP and DENR have aggressively showcased mining as the economic driver to alleviate poverty. Never did CMP and/or the DENR present the injustices caused by the mining industry happening in the Philippines and never did they adequately addressed these problems,” said ATM coordinator Jaybee Garganera.

“There are the two sides of the coin, and we dare the CMP and DENR to showcase the real impacts of mining in the environment, health, livelihood and human rights of communities affected by mining operations in the country. Can they publicly prove to the Filipino people that the benefits from the mining industry outweigh its negative impacts?” said Garganera.

“We bear witness to the numerous mining communities from Benguet in Northern Luzon to Marinduque, to Sipalay and Hinuba-an in Negros to Taganito, Surigao del Norte, in Mindanao, which after decades of years of mining operations in these areas, these communities remain to be among the poorest in the country. Stripped of their natural resources, these communities are left with unemployment, migrant issues, social conflict and health problems,” added Garganera.

As of January 2009, there are about 2,600 pending applications for large-scale mining recorded by the MGB. There the 319 mining agreements issued and approved by the Philippine government, which already cover approximately 722,000 hectares of mining tenements all over the country as of December 2008.

“The 23 priority projects of the government in 2005, which already encroached in 60 percent of already declared protected areas and 53 percent of ancestral domains, have been increased to 62 priority projects in the pipeline. ATM believes that it is foolish for the government to aggressively showcase the Philippines as a mining haven for investors when, in fact, environmental, economic and social safeguards are inadequate and irresponsive to the needs of the Filipino people,” concluded Garganera.

The ATM is an advocacy group and a people’s movement that upholds the rights of the present and future Filipinos against the persisting injustices related to mining. It is an alliance of mining-affected communities and their support groups of NGOs/POs and other civil-society organizations convened by Haribon, Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center, Kasama sa Kalikasan/Friends of the Earth-Phils. and PhilDHRRA. (Business Mirror)

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