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Mine field closure in the Philippines

Updated on February 16, 2017



Prince Edike C.

Closing the mine fields

This is an assessment and evaluation of the event of several mine fields closure by the department of environment and natural resources (DENR) and the reactions from the mining companies affected and the media analysis.
The department is chaired by Sec. Gina Lopez. Position: The 23 metallic mining companies and additional 5 on suspension are violating the Philippines Mining Act by degrading the environmental in which they are operating. The assessment and recommendation were conducted by the Bureau of Mines and Geosciences and The audit prepared by the technical committee set by the agencies involved.
The Mining companies are dully represented by the chamber of mines of the Philippines.Response; Lopez made decisions in contrast with the actual recommendations of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), -the DENR-attached agency that led the audit. And closure would cause socio-economic meltdown on the mineral-riched archipelagos even as it struggled on budget deficit annually. They are the only industry that have replanted over 20 millions tree in the country within the past few years.

This is a typical case of environmental impact audit soundly conducted in consistent with standard environmental impact assessment procedures and social consent but then interpreted as hastily implemented without cost and benefit analysis. However , I would argue that judging by the way the closure decision was announced , it seems an offshoot of the current global political coalition to reconcile development and environmental sustainability. Therefore, it is worth stating that the aftermath of this event would have a lasting effect on the Philippines economy and the people well-being and would indirectly serve as a case study for an attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable. The emergence of environmentalism and its political discourses have been on since 1960's to curb the impacts of humans activities, which includes mining on the environment; that supports the species existence. The environmental awareness campaign is based of scientific findings but it has also been stated by some actors that it is politically stewed for global hegemony by the United States and the E.U. My point is based on several reports on the ecological footprints of these dominant nations. In effect, I would posit that if an Eco-agency, be it governmental (e.g DENR) or non-governmental have attained a socio-political status and could make decisions without due process on the investment laws, they will have to assume new responsibility to create the change they promise and such power should to analysed objectively in order for some nations not to use it as a political tool against all odds. The closure move serves as a sound warning signal to companies that are sorely operating for profit at the peril of the environment. This will resonate within the international community and if not properly addressed, could send a wrong message to the Philippines foreign investment portfolio which include- The FDI, and the capital market and even on the local economy as some of the mining apologists reason.
To react on this event of mine field closure in the Philippines, and to give it an objective academic discourse, the geological formation of metallic minerals, the geopolitics of minerals distribution, the environment in which they are mined or processed as the case may be, the companies involved and the legal framework that they are embedded on and the socio-ethical dilemma of the indigenous people would have to be briefly appraised. Firstly, metallic minerals are formed over millions of years as a result of magmatic process and/or alluvial deposition on placers. These events are not evenly distributed globally and so few countries are richly endowed with them. For example, The Philippines is the world’s top supplier of nickel ore and the main exporter to China, and as such, any disturbance in nickel production might trigger a global nickel prices shift to slump. In 2015, the Philippines produced about 24 percent of the nickel consumed worldwide, according to Morgan Stanley. Second and third ; The places were metal minerals are formed or placed are controlled by governments which in most cases are constrained and so issue mining lease or mining tenets to local and international companies for exploration and production and therefore generate revenues from these operations to run their economies at the expense of the Environment.( depletion, degradation, pollution and in developing countries like the Philippines; there are less to no benefit to the indigenous people). Forth, the ethics that should govern mining in context of the environment and the people are interpreted differently by the different stakeholders but the reliance on the central theme of corporate social responsibility will be essential in addressing the conflict of interest in mining environment. However this responsibility has to be defined by the rule of law and the principles of social justice, economic empowerment, and peaceful resolution in times of conflict by the government via policies, programs and plans. Based on this provision, the Philippine Mining Act provided the guidelines on mining operations within the Philippines exclusive economic zones.



Regulations and their Pitfalls

DENR, as an agency with onus to promote mineral exploitation and environmental protection for national development, found itself challenged to balance the power of reconciling development agenda and the environmental protection, it appears like a coalition course as it struggles to making a sound decision with its duty using logical environmental/scientific premises in a wrong time where development is badly needed by the present government. With this, it seems alarming for a rational Filipino economist who sees closing down mine fields: like killing an essential channel for economic growth, yet, this looks bright for a social and environmental Filipino activist and the media to make such move to align their agenda with those of the global community. In my opinion, and just like the saying goes " anything worth doing, is worth doing well". If sustainability agenda have to be pursued, they have to be politically discoursed and framed during policy analysis and adoption then articulated to the agencies within the functioning institutions for implementation. But if economic development is the ruder of the national policy framework or goal, they have to be executed but not at the expense of the environment which has sustained the Filipinos for generations.
From the recent report, the chamber estimates that almost P70 billion in gross production value and close to P20 billion in taxes will be lost if the DENR decision will not be overturned. About 67,000 jobs are also at risk. However, in my assessment, The implications would go as far as destabilizing some regions especially in the Mindanao where about 45% of the operating mines were affected, and also could plummet the stock values of the trading minerals in and outside the country as well as negatively affecting the international exchange rates against the Pesos. However, Sec. Lopez insisted that a green economy actually creates more jobs."When I was in Marrakesh, she claimed, "what they showed very clearly is that when you go environmental, it's not really a job loss, it’s a transformation of the kind of job you have," Lopez explained.She added: "It means transforming the way we uplift our economy…. An area development approach, with the benefit of the people living there as the prime reason for being, is our way out of poverty. "I'm convinced" , she continued "about this, and I feel doing it this way will give us better GDP, it will even jack up the stock market, but we got to do it the right way, and we have to make the right choices."Lopez further said the DENR will pursue area development in the area, instead of ordering the company to implement their final mine rehab and closure plans.She added that once closed, the DENR will have access to funds intended for the rehabilitation of inactive mines.


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Philippines and mining so far

Philippines is known for its bountiful natural resources and mining industry is one of the country's most exploited trade. While giving employment to thousands of Filipinos and attracting more investors, care and responsibility for our mother nature should not and never be taken for granted. As adversely condemned by the affected group, the closure of the 23 mining companies and suspension of 5 more companies is just and timely. For more than 77 years that they were given permits to engage business, it's about time that our mother nature should be restored and rehabilitated. The land(s) have been terribly exploited because of their devastating operations that is causing siltation within the area and nearby provinces. Contamination of water resources, soil erosion and flooding is just some of the few effects felt due to the denuded forests. Admittedly at first, employment of thousands of locals will be affected but social justice must not be forgotten and long term effect should be mainly considered. Let's not deprive the children and our children's children to see the beauty of the mother nature, let them also enjoy the benefits of our natural resources and guarantee them a habitual place to live for decades. As DENR implement closure and suspension to the said companies, rehabilitation will take place and thus employment shall be progressively adhered together with different stakeholders including the community, economists, environmental scientists and agriculturists as they start ecotourism that will employ thousands of displaced group. Promoting employment should always go with our nature's enhancement and social justice.

Mountain Province



In my assessment, no detail report has been filed stating the benefit of closing those mines. Such report, I will argue, has to detail the ecosystem services that would be offered by the watershed, the population of people that would benefit from the areas, forests management plan and the myriad ecological gains from biomass surrounding those mines. More also , it should expose the negative externalities involved in pushing for mining in those environment in order to discourage their operations and regard them as costly to the Filipino people- born and unborn. And finally for this to be relevant and consistent with sustainable initiative, alternative measures and options values for those environment have to be formulated and documented to enable them serve as policy instruments for the progress of the Philippines.


In conclusion, this is an event of conflict seeking reconciliation and it is testing the very objectivity and progressive goals of the existing bureaucrats of the Philippines and the management of the mining companies to reassess their mission and question some of the very functions of their institutions and then to define their objectives and make it known to its people instead of being caught implementing decisions without a clear vision of what the administration is seeking and the mining firms operating mines as an environmental benign activity.

"Philippines is unfit for mining due to its unique ecosystem". - Gina Lopez.


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