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Who’s to blame

/ 11:36 PM October 03, 2012

In some ways, the mining companies have themselves to blame for the mess they’re in today. They have failed to get their message through: that mining is good for a country, and its people. I venture to suggest that if you ask the average man or woman on the street their awareness of mining and its benefits, they’ll be hard pressed to answer.

Environmentalists have done a far better job, as has the Church. They’ve got not just much of the populace, but equally or more importantly, the government, convinced that mining is harmful and environmental protection a nonnegotiable absolute. The President’s ill-considered logging ban is an example of this. You don’t ban logging, you control it. You don’t ban mining, you control it.

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You encourage both to flourish, but to do so in a responsible manner. New Zealand has 8.3 million hectares (31.4 percent of its land area) of forests. In 1982, it had 7.1 million hectares. There’s no exact figure of how many logs it cut down during that period but it’s obvious it planted when it cut down, given its still broad forest cover. In 1982, the Philippines had 16.6 million hectares of forest; today it has 7.1 million hectares. It didn’t plant. There has been widespread neglect. Selfish, immediate gratification for the maximum profit. Businessmen cut the forests and planted nothing.

A responsible logger would have planted for the future, would have planted to give his children a continuing income. But no, greed dictated all, and a weak or corrupted (probably both) government allowed it. Thousands perished from landslides and flash floods from denuded hillsides. Those unscrupulous, uncaring loggers are murderers, too. And the government does nothing—except impose an unenforceable executive order that is supposed to ban logging. Some 14 million board feet of logs have been confiscated since the ban (how many thousands or maybe millions more went undiscovered, I can only imagine) and reportedly 20 people killed. Bans on the supply of products or services people need or want never work, they just lead to criminality.

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But I’m off-track. The government hasn’t banned mining, but the impositions it has so thoughtlessly created will have the same effect. Illegal gold mining, for example, already remarkably successful, will grow by leaps and bounds as responsible miners leave.

And leave they will, Mr. President. They already have. According to Chamber of Mines president Philip Romualdez, the sector has recorded an outflow of P10 billion in mining investments since 2011. Far more will not come in. It is estimated that some $4 billion in additional mining investments will not eventuate for this year up to 2013. The mining companies are too polite to say it—no, are too scared to, as their future relationship with the government could be severely affected.

So let me say it for them: EO 79 does not clear up the situation; it just creates a wall of confusion. What taxes will I pay? What term limit will I have? What chance of being granted an environmental compliance certificate can I expect? How and when will my right to open-pit mining as defined by national law be allowed?

The controversy that arose over Section 9 of the implementing rules and regulations forced the government to backtrack—and hopefully regain some sense and remove it. But it should never have been there, in the first place. The message given cannot be taken back, the harm has been done. The message: This is a government that will change contractual terms if it feels it wants to. How do they now undo that damaged image?

EO 79 says in quite clear terms: We think mining is bad and must be punished, even prevented. Oh, couched ever so nicely, but the underlying intent is there: Protect the forests over all other considerations. Responsible mines will replace the forests. Responsible loggers will grow more trees. We must have minerals and other mined products. Note this well: “must have”—it’s not just a want, not even a need, it’s an essential to modern life. It can’t be done in someone else’s backyard. That’s un-Christian in the extreme. So it must be done in a responsibly controlled manner.

But is the mining community getting this message across? No. It’s willing to spend hundreds of millions, billions, on developing a mine, but nothing on telling the people of the good it does, of the genuine benefits it brings to a nation. Australia (GDP per capita of US$60,642), Canada (US$50,345) Brazil (US$12,594), and Chile (US$14,394) all saw their economies grow from mining. All have provided their people incomes far in excess of what little the Philippines (a measly US$2,346) struggles to provide its citizens.

New mining has been brought to a standstill. It has created the impression that the Aquino administration does not really want mining, and that miners will not be welcome, only reluctantly accepted. Impression drives decision. The Filipino has no chance of Chile’s US$14,394, let alone Australia’s US$60,000 plus, without large-scale mining. It’s that simple.

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I want people to have a decent life; wealth from mines can help give it. The environment can be protected with enforced rehabilitation later. But this government doesn’t seem to understand the genuine benefits that mining brings. Mining companies should explain their role far better than they do today.

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TAGS: environment, Like It Is, mining, opinion, Peter Wallace
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