Like It Is

Yes, mining again

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THERE WERE a number of comments on my column last week that centered on my “whiteness” and support of mining. I’ll ignore the ethnic slur as being beneath my dignity to even respond to. You sink into racism when you don’t have a good argument to make.

As to mining, yes, I do support it, aggressively. I’ve recognized the essentiality of it in modern (even ancient) life. The opponents who attack me used their laptops or iPads to complain about my support. Those laptops and iPads were made using products from a mine.

What I want is mining that does the least damage, with the damage corrected after. It can be done, and is done elsewhere with good controls. That’s what we fight for: control of mining to act responsibly. Banning it is so mindlessly impractical as to not really be deserving of consideration.

As I’ve sarcastically said, if you are for a total ban on mining, walk naked in the world. You are duplicitous and without credibility if you use anything, anything at all, that has metal in it, or was made using metal in some way. And that’s everything we use today. You can’t even eat. Agriculture requires, at the very least, a plow and a shovel.

Expend your effort on stopping small-scale and illegal mining—that’s what does so much damage. And on monitoring that large-scale miners operate responsibly with the minimum impact on the environment. If the Church and environment NGOs put all their efforts and the resources they now expend into this, we will all gain. The Philippines will truly join the developed world, where it belongs.

Sadly, it seems that the Aquino administration has been convinced by those opposed and now also does not want to have mining in the Philippines. And is willing to sacrifice the substantial benefits mining can bring for the supposed protection of the environment. Which responsible mining doesn’t destroy, anyway. The implementing rules and regulations for Executive Order 79 aren’t the problem, as the mining companies complain, EO 79 is the problem. I’ve written about this before (Inquirer, 10/4/12), so I won’t go over the issues again.

The EO says, in the clearest terms: We don’t want mining. The government can deny this statement all it likes, but that is the message that has been given. That is the perception that is inescapable, and perception is what you base decisions on. There can be no new mining venture for at least two years, and after that is now highly doubtful. No one, no one, invests in a business when you don’t know what tax you’ll pay.

The government wants to increase its share of the revenues a mine earns. Well, I’ve got news for this short-sighted government: There are no revenues where there is no business. You don’t need to be Einstein to work that out. And yes, I’m being sarcastic. I come from a rich country—per capita income: $60,642—that became wealthy on the back of mining. The Philippines, which has been biased against the development of its mining sector, has a measly GDP per capita of $2,346.

My heart breaks when I see the urchins under the bridges. And read this: 20 newborns out of 1,000 live births die while an estimated 25 children out of 1,000 die before the age of five. Forty-five baby Filipinos die who shouldn’t. Poverty is a principal cause. When I hear that 2.8 million Filipinos don’t have any job at all—and that’s a grossly understated number—my blood boils. In Australia, nine die in their first five years, one-fifth the number.

It’s time the bleeding-heart environmentalists who don’t understand the realities of the real world were ignored. Their intentions are fine, but their absolutism is not.

We must have mined products; they are absolutely essential in today’s life. They can be mined in a way that minimizes environmental damage, and restores the land afterward. We can give Filipinos a decent life helped by the wealth mining brings.

It’s time for strong, balanced action from the government—action I see being evaded today. As a start, the President should order—yes, order—Gov. Arthur Pingoy and his council to lift their local ban on open-pit mining without the need of a Supreme Court ruling that will inevitably be made. He’s stated that local laws must conform to national law. Well, don’t just say it, enforce it. You have the power to do it. The same presidential order should be given to Gov. Rolando Yebes. This is not a federal system, it’s a unitary one. The President is the Chief Executive. It’s time he acted as one on this.

Saying something is not doing something. If the ban is lifted, Xstrata can continue to develop its mine—if its environmental compliance certificate is approved. Tampakan is so huge there’s never been anything like it before. It can lift the mining sector’s contribution to GDP to 2.3 percent from the current 1.3 percent, and give the government some P300 billion in taxes over the next 20 years. Just think of the good that could do. That tax take is based on the existing tax regime. If the government insists it wants more and asks Congress to provide it, that will result in a delay of two years or more, and possible loss of this investment altogether. Even if they stay, that 2-year delay equates to an estimated P30 billion lost that a new law may or may not ever recover.

If there’s one thing investors insist on, it’s consistency. You don’t capriciously—and yes, “capricious” is what this is—change the rules of the game for existing players. And for them, you only make change where it’s absolutely essential.

Mining isn’t the problem, lack of control of it is. Solve the problem with the correct solution.

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