Duterte must ‘fix’ mining

Business Mirror - - OPINION -

UN­FOR­TU­NATELY lost in all the con­tro­versy about lan­guage and in­sults, Pres­i­dent-elect Ro­drigo R. Duterte has been es­tab­lish­ing the foun­da­tion of some ba­sic pol­icy de­ci­sions that are crit­i­cal and were ig­nored in the Aquino ad­min­is­tra­tion.

One of the most se­ri­ous and glar­ing lapses of pol­icy has been in re­gard to the mining in­dus­try. Rather than try to ac­tu­ally do some­thing about both the tax­a­tion sys­tem and po­ten­tial en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems for this in­dus­try, the Aquino ad­min­is­tra­tion sim­ply stopped new mining in­vest­ment and stuck its head in the sand. While prop­erly rec­og­niz­ing that there were se­ri­ous is­sues that needed to be ad­dressed, the gov­ern­ment— in­clud­ing the leg­is­la­ture— just ran away.

Pick up a for­eign news re­port about mining in the Philip­pines and you will al­ways read that the coun­try is one of the most min­eral- rich ar­eas on earth. As rich as the coun­try is in min­eral prod­ucts, we are equally as “poor” when it comes to a sen­si­ble min­eral ex­trac­tion and pro­cess­ing pol­icy. Is there any na­tion that has had suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments as in­com­pe­tent and in­ef­fec­tive as ours with re­gards to this is­sue?

In­com­ing Pres­i­dent Duterte has con­sis­tently been an out­spo­ken op­po­nent of mining, re­sented par­tic­u­larly by the for­eign mining in­ter­ests op­er­at­ing in Min­danao. For more than 20 years, Davao City was com­pletely off- lim­its to any sort of mining ac­tiv­ity at Duterte’s in­stance. In his com­ments di­rected to the mining com­pa­nies, “I am putting you on no­tice. I don’t want you here.” Staunch en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist Gina Lopez en­dorsed Duterte’s an­ti­min­ing stance prior to the elec­tions.

Min­eral ex­trac­tion and pro­cess­ing is a com­plex is­sue in­volv­ing na­tional eco­nomics, the rights of the in­dige­nous peo­ples, en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns and— in most min­eral- rich area— se­cu­rity. But to sim­ply ig­nore the Philip­pines’s min­eral wealth makes no sense ei­ther. In re­cent com­ments, Duterte in­di­cated that maybe the best way to move for­ward is for own­er­ship of mining com­pa­nies left to lo­cal Filipino com­pa­nies. This will be a challenge given the great long- term cap­i­tal com­mit­ment need for mining. But it is also prob­a­ble that Filipinos could more ef­fec­tively po­lice the mining practices of Filipino com­pa­nies.

The “no mining un­der any cir­cum­stances” groups bring hypocrisy to a new as­tound­ing level. When they or­ga­nize a “throw your smart­phone and lap­top into Manila Bay Day,” we might raise our re­spect. On the other hand, min­eral ex­trac­tion has been a grim en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lem since the an­cient days of King Solomon’s mines. But if you are smart enough to in­vent a standard of liv­ing that de­pends on mining, then you should be smart enough to pro­vide for the nec­es­sary min­er­als in a safe way.

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