Unmasking responsible mining
“Responsible mining” is an umbrella term under which questionable features take shelter.
For example, the term accommodates the open-pit mining method, which, no matter how responsibly it is carried out, alters an ecosystem irreversibly; this is elementary science. In fact, built into the DNA of mining is the risk of a host of potential impacts, according to the World Resources Institute: habitat loss/fragmentation, disturbance to wildlife, chemical contamination of surface and groundwater, declining species populations, toxicity impacts to organisms, loss of original vegetation/biodiversity, among others. While mining companies can try to mitigate these scenarios, we must calculate if they are worth the trouble.
The term also covers mining primarily for export. Data from the Mines and Geoscience Bureau finds that almost all of the minerals extracted in the Philippines are exported, thereby using national patrimony to benefit not the Philippines but foreign nations.
Mining also does not preclude social impacts. Mining in environmental areas affects ecosystem services—potable water, protection from storms, food—on which communities depend.
All this falls under the narrative arc of responsible mining, and all sanctioned by law, through the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.
Thus, while we recognize the role of mining in modern life, we can’t rely on responsible mining to administer such an invasive undertaking. Alternative minerals management (AMM), which views mining from a whole-of-life approach, is a proposed framework for mining governance in the Philippines. AMM is encapsulated in a proposed bill filed in the 18th Congress by Senators Risa Hontiveros and Grace Poe and Rep. Lawrence Fortun.
In AMM, only so-called strategic minerals, or minerals needed for national development, including national industrialization, shall be marshaled. Mining that does not serve this goal shall be disallowed. Strategic minerals shall also be processed domestically, so they rise in value, bolstering the GDP.
Crucially, AMM fills the void left by the 1995 Mining Act in protecting the environment. In AMM, the open-pit method is prohibited, and mining in key biodiversity areas, critical watersheds, critical habitats, and other such areas is forbidden. AMM is also anchored in the climate discourse. A mining project which is powered by a coal plant flies in the face of the proposed moratorium on coal by the Department of Energy. Mining must not slow down the Philippines’ shift to a low-carbon development pathway.
Some believe mining is atavistic; a post-extractive future is gaining traction in light of the oncoming climate catastrophe. Its proponents argue: How can mining be endorsed when every effort must be made to conserve the environment and not destroy it?
A just minerals transition must thus be conceived to interrogate the role of mining in the shift to renewable energy (for the production of solar panels, for example). Every care must be taken not to inadvertently allow renewable energy to destroy the environment it avows to conserve in the first place.
AMM then is a compromise. It’s a solution that allows mining but only under stringent conditions, which the environment, as the source of our nourishment, must deserve. Responsible mining, which rolls off the tongue, is admittedly popular. However, in alternative minerals management, the language for the primacy of the planet and people over profit is clearly articulated where in responsible mining, it has been lost in translation.
Maya Quirino, advocacy coordinator, Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.