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Mining in the Philippines: the Minerals, the

History, and the Politics

 Published on February 2, 2018

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The mining industry in the Philippines is bigger than many would think given the size of the
country. It also has a very interesting history and has been caught up in the machinations of more
recent political developments. It is useful to consider all these aspects of the Philippines mining
industry particularly in a time when energy sources worldwide are under increasing scrutiny.

The Physical Reality

Starting with some basic facts, according to Leilani Chavez in her article “Fast Facts: Mining in
the Philippines”, the Philippines is the fifth most mineral-rich country in the world for nickel,
gold, chromite, and copper. The country is also the source of the largest copper-gold deposit in
the world. An estimate provided by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) states that the
Philippines has approximately $840 billion worth of untapped mineral wealth, as of 2012. Every
region in the country allows mining except for Metro Manila, and the Autonomous Region in
Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). ARMM ceased issuing mining permits due to the on-going peace
process between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the national government.

Approximately 30 million hectares of land area in the Philippines is regarded as potential areas
for metallic minerals. From these regions, MGB estimates that 9 million hectares of land are
deems as having high mineral potential. In 2012, the Philippines metal deposit was estimated at
21.5 billion metric tons and that of non-metallic minerals at 19.3 billion metric tons. There were
236,000 workers in the mining industry in 2016 per the MGB. Other statistics from 2016:

1) The mining industry’s contribution to the country’s GDP was 0.6%.

2) The contribution of minerals and mineral products to the country’s total exports is at 4% and
for 0.3% for non-metallic mineral manufacturers.
3) As of September 2016, there were roughly 40 metallic mines and 62 non-metallic mines in
operation in the country.

4) Per the MGB, there were 1,473 mining applications under process in the country.

5) As of August 2016, mining companies have already committed P13.1 (Philippines peso)
billion for implementing approved programs and projects under the Environmental Protection
and Enhancement Programs.

However, the mining industry’s gross production value declined from 2014 (at $4.2 billion) to
2016 (at $2 billion). Under the National Greening Program, from 2011 to 2013, the mining sector
committed to reforest about 34,000 hectares—by December 2015, more than 47,000 hectares had
been reforested. It is important to note that the Mining Act of 1995 permits foreign ownership of
mining assets and exploration permits. This act was upheld by the Philippines Supreme Court in

The History
Before we delve into more recent Filipino political skirmishing regarding mining, it is worth
examining the colorful history of the industry. In another article “Mining Industry in the
Philippines” by Jasmin Quintans, the author reveals that when the country was inhabited by pre-
colonial settlers, largely Negrito tribes, some 67,000 years ago, the traditional place and load
mining were one of the activities of the natives. Raw gold was one commodity that was bartered
or sold to trading partners which included Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan, China, and

Initially, the Spanish colonizers, because of the intense resistance of the Ygorotes of the Gran
Cordillera Central, were not able to convert mining into an industry. Finally, in 1837, a Royal
Decree was issued which formed the Inspeccion General de Manila whose purpose was to
administer all of the mining activities in the colony. Following this, in 1864, the Lepanto Mine
began operations and was the first full-scale mining endeavor produced gold and copper.

The Philippine Mining Bureau was formed in 1900 to process and administer mining claims and
all related transactions. Next, the Benguet Mine, the first modern gold mine in the Philippines,
opened in 1907. Seventeen other mining companies followed.

Prior to World War II, mining, particularly, gold mining, was going strong with 40 gold mines
producing 40 metric tons annually. Gold had now taken third position behind only coconut and
sugar in the top commodities exported by the country. Unfortunately, World War II struck. The
Japanese soldiers utilized prison labor to explore and mine for gold, copper, iron, manganese,
and chromite. These products were then shipped back to Japan for their war effort. Because of
General Yamashita’s last stand in Northern Luzon, the Americans were forced to bomb the area
which resulted in major damage to the mines. The end of the war marked the beginning of the
reconstruction of the damaged mines and the revitalizing of the industry.
In the 1950’s, momentum picked up---gold mining resumed and exploration for copper began.
New technologies such as open pit mining for large tonnage, low-grade copper deposits were
introduced. Three more major mines began operations: Atlas in Cebu in 1955, Sipalay in Negros
Occidental in 1957, and Philex in Baguio in 1958.

1960 to 1980 were boom years for the mining industry. However, due to the expiration of parity
rights in the 1974 Laurel-Langley Agreement, President Ferdinand Marcos and his cohorts were
now able to take over existing mines and utilize existing claims to build new ones. However, the
roller coaster continued when in the early 1980’s, the mining industry was subjected to a market
crash. Prices of minerals tumbled down and 14 large and medium-scale mines stopped their
operations due to heavy losses.

Interestingly, now small-scale mining began to come back. Little armies of men, women, and
children took up gold-panning in Mt. Agtuganon/Diwata. Marcos immediately put in a decree
which ensured that gold would still be sold to the State. This had the effect of spawning the new
industry of gold smuggling with the consequence of degradation of the environment. The years
from 1986 to 1992 saw local and foreign investors waiting and watching for a comprehensible
mining policy initiative from the government which never came.

During this same time, the Bureau of Mines and Geo-Sciences had been conducting significant
studies on the minerals potentials in the Philippines which were funded by foreign grants. Once
Fidel Ramos was elected president in 1992, the way was clear for a policy roadmap which led to
the enactment of the previously mentioned Philippine Mining Act of 1995. Now the Philippine
mining industry had come back to where it was with the resurrection of large-scale mining by
local and trans-national companies.

Rarely do things flow smoothly because, in 1995, the La Bugal-B’laan Tribal Association filed a
petition before the Supreme Court questioning the constitutionality of the mining act. The
association was particularly concerned with the provisions which permitted foreigners to operate
mining companies in the country. In January 2004, The Supreme Court ruled on the association’s
petition and nullified the provisions allowing foreign mining firms to operate in the Philippines.
Eleven months later, the Supreme Court reversed itself and once again allowed the foreign
mining companies to resume business.

Bringing the history up to the government of the previous president, Benigno Aquino III,
controversies continued during his reign. Aquino had issued Executive Order 79, Section 9 of
which “mandates that the terms and conditions of the second 25-year term of mining contracts
(which previously had a maximum lifespan of 50 years) would be renegotiated by the
government.” What Section 9 effectively did was shorten mining contracts to a mere 25 years
violating Section 32 of the Mining Act, which guaranteed the mining companies of a second 25-
year term under the same terms and conditions.

At the 2012 Mining Conference in Pasay City, Philippines Chamber of Mines President Philip
Romualdez stated to a roomful of conference attendees who have investments, work, or stakes in
different mining firms in the country, “this provision is patently illegal and contrary to the
assurances of government that mining contracts will be respected.” Romualdez continued by
referring to the mining companies, “They will sue. Any change to that (Mining Act), they will
sue. Our government is seeking more revenues from the industry and, while at it, has extended
the moratorium in new mining projects until a new revenue measure has been agreed upon.”
Romualdez added that since the moratorium on new mining contracts was implemented since
2011, the country has lost out on foreign direct investments roughly in the range of P10 billion.

Current Developments
Now we come to current developments, ones which echo worldwide concerns about the care of
the environment. In an article by Jee Geronimo entitled “DENR Announces Closure of 23
Mining Operations”, President Rodrigo Duterte’s Environment Secretary Gina Lopez stated,
“We have decided to close any kind of mining operation in functional watersheds.” The
Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) made this announcement in
February 2017. The areas included in these closures were Benguet (the Benguet Corporation
being the nation’s oldest mining company), Bulacan, Zambales, Homonhon, Dinagat Islands, and
Surigao del Norte. Gina Lopez added that these firms can still appeal the decision before the
Office of the President. She said that in closing down these mines, she wants to make a statement
that “water is important and that a green economy actually creates more jobs.

Differing Viewpoints
As in the United States and indeed the whole world, there are differing points of view and often
contentious arguments concerning the often competing priorities of industry and the environment
in the Philippines. In an article “Mining is a Social Justice Issue” by Christian Monsod, the
author comes at the question from a different angle than Gina Lopez. To the question of whether
mining should be allowed in the Philippines, he states “I believe that we should be open to that
proposition provided 4 minimum conditions are met: 1) the environmental, social, and economic
costs are accounted for in evaluating mining projects; 2) the country gets a full and fair share of
the value of extracted resources, 3) and this is addressed to the government, the institutional
capabilities of the government to evaluate and regulate mining activities are put in place: and 4)
again addressed to the government, since mining uses up non-renewable natural capital, the
money from mining are specifically used to create new capital such as more developed human
resources and infrastructure, particularly in the rural areas.” His central point is that mining is a
social justice issue and that it cannot be discussed except in the context of the country’s poor
performance in addressing mass poverty and gross inequalities of income, wealth, and political
power. He goes on to say that mining activities are usually located in rural and mountainous
areas and can affect shorelines, rivers, and farmlands, where the poorest people are located,
mainly, the indigenous peoples, municipal fishermen, and farmers.

Now we take up the other side of the debate. Gerard Brimo, President of the Nickel Asia
Corporation and Director of the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, made a presentation at the
Mining Forum “to correct lies, disinformation, and also ignorance.” He takes issue with
Environment Secretary Gina Lopez claiming that she and allied organizations attack the large-
scale metallic industry, not small-scale mining. He understands the critical needs of small-scale
miners because they are driven by poverty, “the same kind of poverty that drives people to do
dynamite fishing or ‘slash and burn’ farming which is rampant all over the country.” That said,
Brimo insists that this level of miming is destructive to the environment and can affect the health
and safety of the miners themselves. He makes the case that gold sold to Bangko Sentra ng
Pilipinas on a “no-names” basis is much larger than the gold output from the large-scale mining
sector—not to mention there are no taxes paid on the small scale mining which in effect distorts
the ratio of taxes paid by the mining industry relative to its total output.

Where Brimo makes his case is on the procedures of the large-scale mining sector. To make his
point, he indicates a map from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau which is on the
left-hand side of the slide. The yellow dots on the map represent applications for exploration
permits for exploration permits from the entire country. This particular map is filled with yellow
dots and is misinterpreted by Ms. Lopez and her group to mean that the country will be mined
out. What Brimo emphasizes is that MGB must process the application to decide if that area is
open to exploration and mining. If the application is rejected, the yellow dot is taken off the map.
Now take a look at the map on the right-hand side of the slide. Here the red dots show the large-
scale metallic mines which only occupy 60,000 hectares or 0.2% of the country’s total landmass.
Brimo contends that the probability of finding a commercially viable mineral deposit is very
slim. He also says that claims that mining can threaten food security are scare tactics.

Taking one more example, we have Manuel Pangilinan's article “How Can Mining Work for
Philippines?” Pangilinan, head of the country’s largest gold producer, Philex Mining Corp.,
delivered a speech in Manila to an audience of anti-and pro-mining advocates. He takes the
example of the ubiquitous cell phone which has 24 mgs of gold, 250 mgs of silver, 3,800 mgs of
cobalt, and 9 mgs of palladium. Per Pangilinan, mining connects in some way with most aspects
of daily life---whether it is using laptops, driving a car to work, or building a home. He then
mentions China and India which are rapidly increasing both their per capita income and resource
demand. Pangilinan asks the question, “is it reasonable to stop developing our resources,
knowing the world and the country need them?’ To this question, he says that if the Philippines
opts out of the global supply chain for minerals, their need for mining products will not cease.
The only recourse would be to import and then the Philippines would have to pay for the foreign
exporter’s cost for production and profit—and the cost of protecting that county’s environment.
What Pangilinan requests is some tangible standard by which any proposed economic activity in
a locality, whether it be tourism, agriculture, or mining, can be evaluated. For him, mining has
that standard which is an environmental compliance certificate and a feasibility study.

This article makes the point that the physical reality of mining in the Philippines must be looked
at in the context of the political, social, and economic forces at work in the country. In this sense,
it is very similar to the intense debates raging in the United States and in the world concerning
industry, the environment, and climate change. Like so many things in life, there is no
conclusively positive or negative verdict on the mining industry in the Philippines. What offers
maximum value is to present differing opinions on the subject so that the reader can be best
Effects of Mining on the Environment and
March 9, 2017/

Mining is an inherently destructive industry, and the mining effects of even a single operation
can have a severe impact on the environment and the wildlife that lives nearby. Although there
are some regulations in place that are intended to minimize the damage, they are not enough to
allow mining and wildlife to exist in harmony, especially in cases where the regulations are
difficult to enforce.

The mining industry has the potential to disrupt ecosystems and wipe out wildlife populations in
several different ways. Here’s how mining affects the environment and wildlife.

 Habitat Loss
Mining can lead to the destruction of habitats in surrounding areas. The process begins with
deforestation. The land above the mine must be cleared of all obstructions to allow the miners to
go to work. Sadly, most mining companies are quite willing to destroy an entire forest to get
access to mineral wealth.

Deforestation has several effects. Birds, animals, and creatures that depend on trees and plants
for food or shelter lose their homes or starve to death. Any remaining survivors are forced to
relocate and find a new dwelling.

The removal of trees can also significantly affect the plants that rely on them for shade from the
harsh sun.

Some mining methods cause further destruction, such as the use of explosions to destroy
mountain tops. Toxic chemicals and minerals could go to streams, rivers, and other bodies of
water which can create harmful effects to marine species.
 Pollution
Mining can leak pollutants into the environment that may lead to water contamination.

At the most basic level, mining requires clearing of trees that hold soil in place. The process can
disturb the ground and wash the soil into waterways. The increase in sediment is not poisonous,
but it can still upset the delicate balance of the aquatic ecosystem by changing growing
conditions and eventually alter the shape of the river.

Other forms of pollution can be even more severe. The mining process exposes bodies of water
to heavy metals and toxic minerals like selenium which can negatively impact the human and
the marine lives.

 Water Loss
Mining cause the water table to shrink. Water often seeps into areas that contain coal and other
valuable products, and that water needs to be pumped out of the mine to allow the miners to
work. Aside from pollution, the process would also cause water loss in the ground.
Some mines have to collect water for use as a dust suppressant, which puts more strain on the
local water supply.

Nearby residents who depend on wells for their water supply can also get affected. They will
need to drill even deeper to ensure that they have access to water. When the water loss from
mining is combined with another large source of strain on the supply, it can lead to a shortage,
which can contribute to the destruction of ecosystems.

 Climate Change
Mining is one of the most common methods for extracting fossil fuel from the ground. Fossil
fuels can be used to power mining machinery. Although useful, burning fossil fuels release
greenhouse gasses into the air which contributes to climate change.

Many mines produce methane as a waste product. Methane is a relatively potent greenhouse
gas; even a small amount of it can gradually worsen climate change. Coal mines are
responsible for approximately six percent of the methane that is released due to human

Abandoned Mines Does Not End the Problem

All mines are temporary structures. They can remain active for many years, but they will
eventually run out of minerals and cease operations. This does not automatically mean that the
environment and wildlife will no longer suffer.

Responsible owners would backfill the underground mine. However, not all mine operators
would resort to this option because the process can be very expensive.

Failure to backfill the mine can lead to a problem called subsidence, which occurs when
abandoned mines collapse. This will undo any efforts to reestablish a healthy ecosystem in the
area, and often render it useless for many years to come. The problem only increases if
contaminants were left on the site, since removing them after a collapse is exceedingly difficult.
Ensuring that every abandoned mine is duly filled in and wastes are eliminated will help nature
to recover.

Solving the Problem

Mining isn’t going to stop anytime soon, but it’s possible to lessen their negative impact on the
environment and wildlife. Various groups are promoting environmentally-friendly mining. Among
the proposed ideas include the following:

 Shutting down unregulated and illegal mines

 Enforcing accurate reporting of dumped toxic wastes
 Backfilling mine sites and proper waste clean-up
 Encouraging and investing in the development of sustainable mining technology
 Improving mining legislations and regulations

Responsible mining will not only save the environment and wildlife, but it can also ensure the
safety of the people working in the mine and living in nearby areas.
Illegal Mining In The Philippines

Gerome Sunio started this petition to denr

Mining Industry in the Philippines has been a controversial issue once again, as the
Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) secretary Gina advocates
the total ban of mining for responsible and sustainable mining in the country. Image
Credit: Getty Images
Mining Industry in the Philippines has been a controversial issue once again, as the
Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) secretary Gina Lopez
advocates the total ban of mining for responsible and sustainable mining in the country.

Mining in the Philippines has been known early as year 1521. The Philippines is actually
the fifth most mineral-rich country in the world for copper, nickel, gold and chromite.
This has been a home to the largest copper-gold deposit in the world. According to
Mines and Geo-sciences Bureau the country has $840 billion worth untapped mineral

All regions, except NCR and ARMM allow mining operations. About 30 hectares of land
areas in the country is deemed as possible areas for metallic minerals. The labor of
department statistics shows that the mining in the country has created 211,000 jobs in
2011 alone.

The total ban of mining rests on the fact that mining activities has a destructive effect on
natural resource, like the destruction of the natural habitat of different animal species.
The dumping of chemicals in the mining could also pollute the other areas near the
mining sites.

On the other hand, individuals also have the duty to use natural resources responsibly.
The advocates for responsible and sustainable mining challenge folks to balance man’s
self-interest and nature’s stability.

However, those people who are in large mining corporations have firmly practiced their
goals of achieving their self-interests forgetting the fact that these are the reasons why
there is an imbalance in the biotic community.

Thus, the government should really take a stand on implementing its legal measures on
mining to prevent destruction on mineral resources.
We will be coming out with the proposed policy reinventing mining that will spread the benefits to the people
without compromising the environment and natural resources of the country,” DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu
said during last Thursday’s pre-State of the Nation Address 2018 Forum at the Philippine International
Convention Center.

Cimatu, chair of the Cabinet Cluster on Climate Change Adaptation, Mitigation and Disaster Risk Reduction,
said mining companies are being consulted about the plan to reinvent mining.

In the DENR’s accomplishment report, a total of 89 cease and desist orders have been issued against illegal
mining operations, resulting in the filing of 51 cases.

Below are the list of effects of mining industry in the Philippines.


Mining has an effect on the quality of the air. Coal mines releases methane that
contributes to environmental issues since it contains greenhouse gas.
Some cooling plants may release these ozone-depleting substances yet the amount
released is just very small.
Heavy metals like sulfur dioxide is polluted into the air by unsafe smelter operations with
insufficient safeguards.
Gold mining industry is actually one of the most destructive industries in the world
because of the toxins released into the air.
Another side effect of mining are acid rain and smog.
A total of 142 million tons of sulfur dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere, every year
because of smelting and that is 13% of total global emissions.

When sulfide is oxidized through contact with air via mining, it forms sulfuric acid and
when this is combined with trace elements, it has a negative impact on groundwater.
This happens both surface and underground mines.
Chemical deposits that are left over from explosives are usually toxic and it increase the
salinity of mine water as well as contaminating it. Through the “in situ” mining
groundwater can be directly contaminated, in which a solvent seeps into un-mined rock,
leaching minerals.
Toxins like cyanide and mercury are used in the extraction of minerals that can
permanently pollute the water, making it difficult to the fishermen to find fish.
Spills into the lakes and ocean also add toxic to heavy metals and sulfuric acid to the
environment, where it can take years.

Land impacts are immense in mining which involves moving large quantities of rock and
in surface mining. Almost all of the mined ore of non-ferrous metals become waste.
Mining activities might as well lead to erosion which is very dangerous for the land.
This also leads to destruction of river banks and changes how the river flows, where it
flows, what lives in it, etc.
Toxins such as cyanide and by products like mercury which is used in the extraction of
minerals can permanently pollute the land and people will no longer be able to farm in
certain places.
Open-pit mining also leaves behind large craters that can be seen from outer-space.
Due to people digging in search of precious minerals, a lot of areas are pock marked by
thousands of small holes.

Deep sea mines are at risk in eliminating rare and potentially valuable organisms.
Mining also destroys animal habitats and ecosystem.
Those activity that surrounds the mine which includes explosions, transportation of
goods, road construction, the movement of people, the sound made, etc are actually
harmful to the ecosystem and will change the way animals have to live since they will
have a new way to cope with the mine and live around it.
In general, spills of deadly substances have a very negative effect on animals and
Discharged toxins and tailing from the mines can disrupt and disturb the way animals
By adding or taking out something from the animals’ everyday lives, mining can
completely destroy the ecosystem.

Loss of agricultural and livelihood.

Due to huge environmental, social and cultural costs, this puts extreme stress on health,
food security, displacement, and respiratory diseases.
Mining companies who promised to provide scholarships and livelihood to the affected
people are mere palliatives in comparison to the massive environmental destruction and
are long-term negative heath impacts of unsustainable mining practices.
Mining is still considered as a hazardous industry, though it has its advantages yet the
disadvantages far outweigh the advantages of its existence.

DENR Secretary Gina Lopez believes that the quality of life of the people is more
important rather than the money they make. Although, her order would result to massive
job loss and it could affect her confirmation at the Commission on Appointment (CA),
she will still keep her stand and do her duty despite of all the criticisms she received.

On the other hand, President Rodrigo Duterte also said that he chose to appoint Lopez
because she shares his stand on responsible mining and environmental conservation.

Duterte also stated that, the Filipino people own the mineral resources , however the
current law does not provide for payment for these resources.
Moreover, mining contributes little to the economy, it is not a huge employment
generator. The total contribution of mining is only 234,000 in year 2015 or 0.6% of total
employment in the country

Irresponsible Mining Damages the Environment

The Philippines has an estimated $840 billion worth of untapped mineral resources, according to the
Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the Philippines which is responsible for giving permits to mining
companies to do exploration of mining areas and to commence operation.
Large-scale mining is destructive as it uses the method of open-pit mining which entails clearing
thousands of hectares of rainforests and agricultural lands, deep excavations to extract minerals, the
use of toxic heavy metals and chemicals to process mineral ores, and the consumption of millions of
liters of water – all of which negatively impact the lives of the Filipino citizens with the grave
disregard for their right to health, life, food security, livelihood, and a clean environment. This is the
social justice issue of large-scale mining. Large-scale mining is against the sustainability of
the environment and of the people’s cultural identity and quality of life.

Mining has a great effect on the quality of the air. Since mines need to blast through rock to get to an
ore, dust may be produced in the process. Coal mines release methane, which contributes to
environmental issues because it is a greenhouse gas.
Methane is sometimes captured, but only where it is economically feasible to do so. Some cooling
plants may release ozone-depleting substances, but the amount released is very small. Non-
vegetated or uncapped tailings dams release dust, and when radioactive elements are found in the
ore, radiation is emitted. Heavy metals, such as sulfur dioxide, may be polluted into the air by unsafe
smelter operations with insufficient safeguards. The gold mining industry is one of the most
destructive industries in the world, because of all of the toxins that are released into the air. Acid rain
and smog are also some side effects of mining. Every year, 142 million tons of sulfur dioxide is
emitted into the atmosphere because of smelting. That’s 13% of total global emissions.

Mines use a lot of water, though some of the water is reusable. Sulfide, when oxidized through
contact with air via mining, form sulfuric acid. This, when combined with trace elements, negatively
impacts groundwater. This happens from both surface and underground mines.
Leftover chemical deposits from explosives are usually toxic, and increase the salinity of mine water,
as well as contaminating it. Groundwater can be directly contaminated through “in situ” mining, in
which a solvent seeps into un-mined rock, leaching minerals. In the extraction of minerals, some
toxins (for example cyanide and mercury) are used that can permanently pollute the water, making it
hard for fishers to find fish. Spills into oceans and lakes add toxic heavy metals and sulfuric acid into
the environment, which can take years to fix.
Trees need to be cut down in order to have a mine built, and whole forests could be destroyed.
Mining involves moving large quantities of rock, and in surface mining, overburden land impacts are
immense. Almost all of the mined ore of non-ferrous metals becomes waste. A lot of areas are pock
marked by thousands of small holes by people digging in search of precious minerals. Mining
activities also may lead to erosion, which is dangerous for the land. It destroys river banks, and
changes how the river flows, where it flows, what lives in it, etc. Toxins used in the extraction of
minerals (for example cyanide and byproducts like mercury) can permanently pollute the land, which
makes people not able to farm in certain places. Open-pit mining leaves behind large craters that
can be seen from outer-space.

Mines are highly damaging to the ecosystems surrounding them. Many different types of mines
affect many different types of ecosystems. For example, deep-sea mines are at high risk of
eliminating rare and potentially valuable organisms. Mining destroys animal habitats and
ecosystems. Pits that mines create could have been home to some animals. Also, the activity that
surrounds the mine, including people movement, explosions, road construction, transportation of the
goods, the sounds made, etc. are harmful to the ecosystems and will change the way the animals
have to live, because they will have to find a new way to cope with the mine and live around it. Spills
of deadly substances have a very negative effect on animals and ecosystems in general. Many of
the toxins and tailings that are discharged from the mines can disrupt and disturb the way animals
live, and their health. Mining can completely destroy ecosystems by adding or taking out something
from the animals’ everyday lives, therefore throwing the whole thing out of balance.


Because of huge environmental, social, and cultural costs, allowing mining to operate puts extreme
stress on the health, food security, and right to life and livelihood of the Filipinos who first lived in the
area. Displacement, respiratory disease, loss of agriculture and livelihood are just some of the things
local communities lose to mining corporations. The promises made by mining companies to provide
scholarships and provide livelihood to the affected people, especially with indigenous tribes are mere
palliatives in comparison to the massive environmental destruction and long-term negative health
impacts of unsustainable mining practices.


Good science, due

process and mining
Is a golden mean possible in mining? Yes, but radical reforms in governance are
necessary to get there.

Tony La Viña
Published 1:52 PM, February 22, 2017

Updated 10:42 AM, May 01, 2017




Aristotle’s concept of the "golden mean" is one of the most practical moral concepts
I have encountered. According to this ancient Greek philosopher, "Virtue is
concerned with passions and actions, in which excess is a form of failure, and so is
defect, while the intermediate is praised and is a form of success; and being praised
and being successful are both characteristics of virtue. Therefore, virtue is a kind of
mean, since, as we have seen, it aims at what is intermediate."

As I wrote in one of my Eagle Eyes column 5 years ago Aristotle's golden mean is
relevant to the challenge of mining in the Philippine. In that article, I raise questions
which many are again asking in the wake of recent decisions by Secretary Gina
Lopez: “Is a middle ground on mining possible? Is there such a thing as responsible
mining that conforms to sustainable development? Or is mining always destructive
of nature and communities? What is the golden mean in mining?”

Conditions for responsible mining

There is no disagreement that minerals are one of the most important economic
resources, from the steel of skyscrapers and bridges, to the rare-earth metals used
in semiconductors and electronics. Mining is also an important component of any
national economy as it brings hard currency, elicits investment, and generates jobs.

The situation in the Philippines is however far from ideal.

Weak governance institutions and corruption compromise mining governance, with

environmental, safety, and human rights regulations frequently ignored. Our mining
claims system is also antiquated, allowing companies and individuals to lay mineral
claims on large swaths of Philippine territory and unnecessarily giving the
impression that all of the country is open for mining.

I have long advocated a more modern approach of the government – identifying the
mineral resources and bidding them out pro-actively rather than granting
concessions on a first-to-claim basis.

For the record, I am not against mining per se. I oppose mining that is
environmentally destructive and a mining governance system that does not
distribute benefits properly. The latter is more important because if we solve the
inequity of revenue distribution in mining, we can ensure that enough resources are
set aside to minimize its negative environmental and social impacts. This is true for
both small-scale (which I also do not endorse unconditionally because of its
environmental impacts and safety risks) and large-scale mining.
Mining, and similar natural resources issues are best seen and resolved through the
prism of environmental and social justice. Hence, the most important reform in
mining governance is the proper distribution of powers, responsibilities, and income
from the extraction of mineral resources.

Thus, indigenous peoples and local communities must have a voice in the mining
decisions and a big share of the revenue. Similarly, local governments should have
a major say on whether or not mining should be allowed within their territory and
must have a just share of the revenues. Where there is conflict between national
government and local governments, mediation is the only recourse.

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No community or local government should be railroaded to accept mining.

Opposition however must be based on scientific grounds. For example, the claim
that mining causes earthquakes has no scientific basis, although irresponsible
mining can increase the risks of both geological and climate disasters.
Mining’s contribution to economy

Mining operations bring jobs and infuse money into the local economy, and the
mining sector contributes to economic growth in general.

Even so, is any positive number in terms of job generation and economic growth
always a good thing? How much incentive does the government give to the mining
sector, which should be deducted from the net benefits to the country and local
people? How much more (or less) can the government get if it considers alternative
uses of the land?

In other words, are Filipinos (as a people) really better off with mining, and is the
government getting the best deal for its people?

These are tough questions to answer due to the lack of data and a framework to
analyze benefits as a whole. But there are known facts that can help in this analysis.
It does not help when supporters of mining exaggerate the figures with inflated
claims of job and economic losses.

As to the benefits that local people can derive from mining, mining companies rightly
claim that there are huge economic and social benefits during mining operations.
Indeed, a mining operation can result in new roads and access to transportation,
increased trade of goods and services supplied to the mining operations, and even
improved access to health centers and schools. Some local governments rely only
on mining tax revenue to supplement their internal revenue allocation.

Unfortunately, we have no independent studies that give us accurate estimates of

these benefits and that weigh them against the environmental and social impacts of
such operations. There is also an accusation that most of the benefits of mining go
to a very narrow set of beneficiaries.

If we are to enable responsible mining, changing the economics of the sector is a

high priority. There is really no debate about this and that new legislation is
Way forward: Good science, due process

Is a golden mean possible in mining?

Yes, but radical reforms in governance are necessary to get there. Those reforms
must be based on good science and grounded in due process that allows all
affected parties and stake holders to argue their case and present their views.

Good science means that we are able to make sure that the destructive impacts of
mining are minimized, if not avoided entirely. Many in the mining industry will
acknowledge the bad environmental legacy of mining. But they argue that
responsible mining is now possible. They point to global best practices in
environmental management and addressing social impacts which, when employed
properly, make mining consistent with sustainable development.

They are right. However, there are places where mining should not be allowed,
where the risk to important biological, environmental and cultural resources are too
serious and cannot be mitigated adequately.

Secretary Lopez and President Duterte are correct in asserting that watersheds,
whether proclaimed or not, must be absolutely no-go as well. These no-go areas
should have been identified years ago; it is a big disservice to the public if again the
task is passed on to another body. Let those who want to mine carry the burden of
proving that mining should be allowed.

Due process must be followed in mining decisions.

Mining companies, local governments, indigenous peoples, affected communities,

and even ordinary citizens have rights that must be respected in the adoption of
policies and in suspending and cancelling mining operations and agreements. Those
rights are established by law and it does not take rocket science to determine if
government has complied or not with what is required. If due process was not
followed, corrective measures can be taken.

At the end of the day though, it’s the national interest that must prevail.

Is a golden mean possible in mining? The actions of Gina Lopez are taking us in the
right direction. As a society, we must build on that and go forward, not backslide, to
a better mining governance system. –