The high global demand for mineral resources in the past decade has led to a rapid expansion of mining exploration in the Philippines. Suddenly, mining became a major economic priority for the government because of its huge potential in generating jobs and tax revenues. But public opinion towards mining turned negative due to the associated environmental disasters, displacement of local villagers, and the militarization of communities where mining operations exist.
Even local officials, many of whom are part owners of some of the mining concessions, have to publicly criticize the destructive impact of mining. In fact, 14 of the country’s 85 provinces have passed local ordinances imposing a moratorium on mining activities.
Recognizing the need to reform the mining law which is seen by many as pro-foreign; and in response to the growing grassroots opposition against mining, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III formed a study group last year which was tasked with formulating a new mining policy.
After several months of consulting various stakeholders in the mining sector, but most especially the mining companies, the committee submitted its recommendations to the president who later on signed Executive Order No.79. According to the government, the new mining policy seeks to harmonize the conflicting interests between big business and local communities in order to maximize the proper use of mineral resources for national development.
What are the key points of the measure? First, the government expanded the areas closed to mining operations by including tourism development areas and prime agricultural lands in the designated “no mining” zones. The government also declared a moratorium on new mining agreements until a revised law on revenue sharing scheme is passed. Furthermore, the granting of mining rights will be subject to competitive public bidding.
To develop downstream industries for strategic metallic ores, a national industrialization plan will be drafted in the next six months. To facilitate dialogue between all stakeholders and to oversee the implementation of government directives, a Mining Industry Coordinating Council will be established.
A controversial provision in the new mining policy is the explicit prohibition for local provincial and municipal councils to pass anti-mining laws.
Green groups immediately denounced the new mining policy, which they claim is still biased in favor of mining liberalization and foreign plunder of the country’s finite mineral resources. They pointed out that despite the purported expansion of “no mining” areas, the new policy would still allow the government to honor existing mining agreements. They also belittled the mining moratorium provision since the government can still give mining exploration permits.
The Catholic Church, which has long been a vocal critic of the mining sector, was also not impressed with the “token reforms” in the new mining order. They insisted that the policy framework of the government with regard to mining is still contrary to the principle of rational “stewardship” of natural resources.
Meanwhile, small scale miners are complaining that the government is unduly favoring foreign large scale miners despite the fact that the latter are mostly responsible for the huge mining disasters in the recent past. Local government officials are frustrated as well because the national government is trying to curtail the right of communities to express opposition to mining activities.
Curiously, the Chamber of Mines instantly praised the new mining law which they think would encourage more mining investments in the country. They also affirmed their commitment to promote responsible mining and contribute to the country’s economic growth.
The debate over the new mining policy is expected to intensify given the negative response of many groups and institutions. The support expressed by the business sector can’t easily erase the negative public perception towards mining activities. If the intent of the government is to ease the simmering tension between miners and villagers, then it has clearly failed for now. In fact, there’s already a clamor for the passage of an alternative mining legislation that would address the specific demands of communities affected by mining operations.
In sum, the government has squandered the opportunity to enact a mining policy that would unite all sectors in support of a sustainable and pro-people mining industry. Instead, it drafted a document that seemed acceptable to only one sector. Because of this, the option of resorting to ‘resource nationalism’ has become more popular today.