Mining is highly extractive. From the vantage point of environmental protection, “responsible mining” may seem like an oxymoron given the obvious toll of mining on natural resources, especially arable land, water and forests. The nature of this industry thus goes against the principle of preserving and cultivating land and nature for present and future generations.
There are those who argue, however, that the environment can still be protected despite the extractive nature of mining. There are also those who claim that the environment is not the only thing that needs protecting. One also has to protect the ancestral domain of the indigenous peoples where mining sites are often located, jobs of mine workers, and profit for mining companies. One also has to consider the overall potential of mining as a driver of economic development.
Above-mentioned values and interests, however, often run in opposition to one another and the debates around mining center on the idea of trade-offs: protection of ancestral domains or economic development? environmental protection or job creation? profit or environmental protection? jobs in mining or no jobs at all?
In this piece, I present recent efforts to bring to the table concerns and interests that are mining-related. I argue that these efforts are necessary and must be sustained. For development to be genuinely “inclusive,” development strategies and policies must be contested and negotiated by all stakeholders. Everyone affected must have a seat at the negotiating table.
While there are no easy answers to the question of trade-offs, processes for consensus-building have recently been undertaken by several stakeholders, under the platform of “responsible mining.” Two dialogues were held in the latter part of 2018 while a third dialogue was held in March 2019.
The document “Discussion Paper on Mining: Consolidated Notes from the 1st and 2nd Roundtable Discussions on Responsible Mining held in Astoria Plaza Hotel on November 27, 2018 and December 11, 2018” reveals that the RTDs were precipitated by at least two developments: the signing of the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) of “a declaration to pursue responsible practices in November 2017,” in response to “President Duterte’s challenge to promote responsible mining,” and the invitation of Bantay Kita to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the CoMP and the Philippine Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (PH-EITI) “to undertake a series of consultations, in a safe space and respectful atmosphere, through a round table discussion (RTD) with key stakeholders in the hope of finding a common understanding and mutually acceptable articulation of what ‘responsible mining’ is.” Bantay Kita is “a coalition of civil society organizations advocating for transparency and accountability in the extractive industry.”
The first RTD focused on large-scale mining operations while the second one discussed small-scale mining. The results of these two dialogues were then presented during a third RTD held at the Ateneo de Manila University on March 17, 2019. I had the privilege to help organize and participate in that third dialogue.
DETERMINING SOCIAL LIMITS TO DEVELOPMENT
The first two dialogues resulted in an initial definition of responsible mining as “one which contributes significantly to economic growth while at the same time ensuring that the impacts to the environment are remediated toward sustained productivity of the land after mining and the host and neighboring communities are developed into self-reliant communities beyond the life of the mine.” This definition was said to be “founded on the threefold elements of economic viability, technical feasibility and social acceptability.”
Moreover, the first two dialogues resulted in a claim that “for mining to be responsible, it has to meet the fundamental tenets of economic growth, environmental protection and social development or loosely translated as ‘profit, planet and people,’ all with the end goal of sustainable development. The three ‘Ps’ are to be treated as equals, but with ‘planet’ as the primus inter pares (first among equals), signifying that primordial consideration is to be given to mining’s responsibility to protect the environment.” A fourth “P” — policy — has also been deemed necessary because mining “should be legally compliant.”
In the third RTD, a representative of civil society, lawyer Gerthie Mayo-Anda of the Environmental Legal Assistance Center, emphasized the need “not just for a law but a robust policy framework that integrates rights and privileges, taxes, penalties, tree-cutting permits, resilience cost and benefit, wealth accounting and valuation, island ecosystem and biodiversity.” Attorney Mayo-Anda’s intervention was followed by a discussion on the need for a new law since the existing law RA 7942 or the Mining Act of 1995 is seemingly silent on many important issues.
Representatives of the mining industry, meanwhile, emphasized the need for “certainty” when it comes to mining policy. According to one representative, mining is a business enterprise and therefore predictability of operations is crucial. When policies change too often or are not implemented evenly, operations of mining companies suffer.
For my part, I argued that social limits must be taken into consideration and not just market limits. I also claimed that “planet” and “people” were, in fact, social limits and that it was commendable that the first two dialogues had raised these limits. I observed a glaring omission though: labor. The impact of mining on indigenous peoples and affected communities had been raised, and rightfully so, but mining workers were not considered. I also reminded the group that DOLE’s list of the top 20 violators of the contractualization law included two mining companies and that this should be a cause for concern for all stakeholders.
GOVERNMENT AS MAIN DUTY-BEARER
The third roundtable discussion also resulted in several discussions about the important role that government plays in mediating the various interests in the mining industry, and, ultimately, in locating the mining industry in a larger development strategy. Industry and civil society were agreed that government is the main duty-bearer especially when it comes to ensuring that policies are agreed upon democratically and implemented effectively.
Hopefully, the DENR, particularly the MGB, will step up to the task. It would also help if the PH-EITI were strengthened as a multi-stakeholder mechanism. The EITI is the “global standard to promote the open and accountable management of oil, gas and mineral resources.” The Philippines joined EITI in 2013, with the Department of Finance (DoF) as the lead institution and MGB, COMP and Bantay Kita as members. Since its establishment, Philippine EITI has produced five reports disclosing payments of and receipts from mining companies. Apart from these disclosures, PH-EITI has been important as a vehicle by which the various stakeholders — government, industry, civil society — are able to know and respect each other by working together in a sustained manner. I don’t think the recent dialogues on “responsible mining” would have been possible without the PH-EITI.
It is thus very important that in the coming elections, voters choose candidates who agree that policy should always be negotiated and are willing to support genuine multi-stakeholder dialogue on mining policy. For consensus-building to be sustained, there must be “responsible-mining champions” in government, in the executive and legislative branches, and at the national and local levels.
Let us vote for candidates who believe that planet, people, and profit must be protected — in that order.
Carmel V. Abao is a faculty member of the Political Science Department of the Ateneo de Manila University. She teaches political theory and international political economy.