Monday, March 5, 2012

News Update Balanced mining policies vowed

The government will come out with balanced mining policies that take into consideration the inputs of all concerned sectors, Malacañang said yesterday.
“We all saw that passions were running very high and it shows us how complicated the mining issue is,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said, referring to a conference Friday that was attended by the mining stakeholders.

Valte said the government “recognizes the pro-mining, anti-mining (advocates), businessmen, environmentalists and those in the middle” of the issue.

“There are a lot of stakeholders that are weighing in, there are a lot of interests... points of view. The government has to take all of those into consideration and come up with a policy that is fair to all. That’s why we go back and continue the consultations,” Valte said.

On Thursday, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima said President Aquino wanted business in the Philippines to be more efficient and easier for investors.

Purisima, however, said this time, the government would want to get the best from mining in terms of revenues and benefits to communities.

“The mining industry is one of the areas that can increase the economic growth of the country. 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,” he said.

Purisima said the total collection from the mining industry amounted to just a little over P2 billion last year.

“Our total revenue was over how much? 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. We are looking at various models, alternatives in the hope that this can be done so that all the interests of the different sectors are addressed,” Purisima said.

“I believe that with better governance that President Aquino is trying to put in place, we will have more predictable rules; we will have rules that will be implemented based on merit; and we will have a court system that is more reliable, that is more transparent and that people can trust that the rules of the game won’t be changed in midstream,” Purisima said.

He said the thrust of the changes were for new ventures to start and not the existing ones.

“I believe, at least from where we sit at the Department of Finance, existing operations and contracts will have to be honored and respected. But beyond the existing mining operations, there are so many mining opportunities in the country,” he said.

Purisima noted the efforts of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to cancel over a thousand mining permits for various violations endangering the environment.

“The Philippines wants to attract the real mining operators who are going to put to bed their capital, their management expertise and their technology in developing the mineral resources of the country,” he said.

If mineral rights could be auctioned in Canada and the United States, “how come it’s not possible in the Philippines?” he asked.

“In other countries they actually auction these rights. They auction telecommunications frequencies and various other franchises. I believe that, you know, we should do that so that we can generate more resources to invest in infrastructure, schools, hospitals; invest in better government, better institutions; invest in a better environment. So... and that’s why we’re looking at best practices around the world to see what we can copy,” he said.

In moving forward, Purisima said the environment would be better as mining companies look at potential areas for exploration.

“Obviously they look at those that have historical track record of mineral resources of which the Philippines is considered the fifth most mineralized country in the world based on a United Nations study. They will also look at the stability of government and laws that, you know, cover that area and how well-defined they are,” he said.

“And since our effort is to make sure that we define this better, we implement this better, and that we clarify various rules that were vague and were conflicting, then after this process, I believe that the regulatory environment will be better for mining investors,” he added.

Purisima said the government would have better and balanced mining policies for incoming investors despite the delays in the issuance of an executive order to delineate them.

“The Philippines is a country that’s blessed with mineral wealth. And it’s very important that in harnessing this mineral wealth, we do it in a responsible manner that will not only benefit the mining entities that actually participate but also the communities where the mines are in the country in general. It is important that the policy, the environment is one that is conducive to our responsible mining,” Purisima said in a press briefing after a meeting with President Aquino and Asian Development Bank (ADB) president Haruhiko Kuroda in Malacañang last Thursday.

Review of mining policies

In reviewing the country’s mining policies, Purisima said the President emphasized the need to “make sure that we consult all the stakeholders.”

“Unfortunately the consultation process took longer than planned. So we’re going through that process right now and sooner hopefully than later, we’ll come out with a new summary of how we’re going to implement the current mining rules,” Purisima said.

Management Association of the Philippines president Ed Francisco, who also attended the ADB meeting with businessman Washington Sycip, said the private sector “believes in responsible mining” in general despite its earlier opposition to a draft EO that they got hold of.

Purisima also noted that mining policies abroad were also being reviewed.

“Australia which is a very big mining natural resources-driven economy has recently imposed not only a carbon tax but also a mineral rents tax in the belief that these mineral resources should benefit the country. We’re watching this from afar. We’re also looking at developments in other leading mining localities and we’ll consider all of this in crafting a way forward,” Purisima said.

Critics, however, argued that mining considerably affected the country’s environment and exploitation of the poor.

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP)-National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace, said mining begets poverty.

“It has something to do with the poor because mining makes more people poor. I’m sure those who are engaged in mining, they did 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,” he said.

Pabillo said the Aquino administration should step up and control the business groups who are benefiting from mining operations here.

“The problem is (that) the government is not capable of monitoring it,” he said.

Pabillo also hoped that the government would look at the beauty of the land, untouched by mining.

“Why don’t you see the lands that can be productive? Once you get the minerals it’s already destroyed,” Pabillo said.

“These untapped mining resources are not only for us. It’s for all the Filipinos and for the incoming generations. It is not just that we destroy that (natural resources) and leave nothing for the incoming generations,” he added.

Pabillo said the CBCP has long been asking the government to issue a mining moratorium and review of mining laws in the country.

Environment groups also urged the recall of the mining liberalization policy of the government.

“Seventeen years after the enactment of the Mining Act, over a million hectares of our lands were owned and plundered by foreign mining corporations, conflicts and violence proliferated in mining affected-communities, and our environment was devastated and polluted,” said Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.

“We call for a moratorium on mining applications and operations on all foreign, large-scale, magnetite and offshore mining transnational corporations. This must stand until we are able to put in place a pro-people, pro-environment mining law,” he said. – Aurea Calica, Evelyn Macairan, Rhodina Villanueva