Shaping the future of mining

Vice President Jejomar Binay
Mining should help raise the economic bottom line for the average Filipino and allow him or her to pursue a dignified and productive life

Vice-President Jejomar BinayEditor’s Note: This is the keynote speech delivered by Vice-President Jejomar Binay during Mining Philippines Conference and Exhibition at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza, Pasay City, 19 September 2012 at 9:30 a.m.

I thank you for the very kind introduction. I am honored to join this conference of the mining industry as you convene to tackle the vast prospects that lie ahead. I see many familiar faces in the crowd this morning and I believe our paths first crossed when I spoke before the 2nd Mining Convention of the Philippine Society of Mining Engineers in Davao. I am truly happy to see you here in Manila.

We gather during a time of intense debate. Mining has become a polarizing issue and whenever talks drift to this industry, unmovable lines tend to be drawn, with each camp boldly championing their cause. But amidst these discussions, I propose that the ultimate concerns of both sides can and should be tackled in unity.

When I last spoke in Davao City, I submitted that the real question was not whether we should mine or not, but how we can mine responsibly wherever mineral wealth lies.

Mining and responsibility are inherently joined at the hip for good reason. The target of mining is wealth of finite quantity that is usually non-renewable. The environment can be affected by mining activity, and communities both proximate and remote from the mining areas are not immune to the changes that mining brings.

Our environmental and social ecosystems are profoundly touched by our actions and we must move with purpose, knowing full well that our deeds breed lasting consequences. 

The fears are real. However, man and science has evolved at paces unheard of as recently as the 20th Century. The technologies we have at our disposal are impressive and all of these should be brought to bear so that mining becomes a unifying issue, rather than a divisive one.

Wherever mining shall be permitted by law, to miners of whatever scale, it is important that we apply every measure and technology to ensure that the impact on the environment is managed to acceptable degrees and that after the operations have ceased, proper rehabilitation is undertaken.

Of greater importance, the gains of mining should trickle down to empower and improve the lives of those who truly own these resources: the Filipino people.

Though we live in an era where knowledge is fast becoming the foremost commodity of value, minerals still hold a durable and lasting worth, and we should be able to use the gifts bestowed by Providence to close the gap between poverty and development.

Certainly, the issue of mining is very complex, one that unleashes a host of arguments and statistics both for and against its pursuit. At the very core are mining’s economic benefits. But these are not the only essential considerations. The real issue is how mining can advance social justice — how it can improve the lives of not just an elite few, but those in the middle class and most especially, our countrymen living below the poverty line.

At the end of the day, mining should help raise the economic bottom line for the average Filipino and allow him or her to pursue a dignified and productive life. This is the context within which the future of mining must be shaped.

And so I stand before you today to ask all to rise to this challenge: Let social justice be one of the hands that shape the future of Philippine mining.

This challenge is made even more urgent by recent news and encouragements. A few weeks ago, an article published in the New York Time heaped praises on the Philippines and called us the “economic bright spot” of Asia.

Last July, Standard & Poor’s raised the country’s debt rating to just below investment grade. This is the highest rating we have obtained since 2003 and the confidence that S&P has affixed shows that we are certainly blazing the right trails.

The same New York Times article cited a study done by banking giant HSBC projecting the world’s top economies in 2050. This research highlights — at the very top of its list — “[t]he striking rise of the Philippines, which is set to become the world’s sixteenth-largest economy, up 27 places from today.”  HSBC forecasts that in 38 years’ time, the Philippines will be third on the list of countries with the fastest growth, next only to China and India. 

The article also cited areas where we can do better. In listing “real weaknesses” of the country,  Frederic Neumann, a senior economist of HSBC claimed — with basis — that we have “traditionally underexploited” our natural resources. 

The Philippines has always had the potential to be one of the most viable mining sites in the Asia Pacific region. According to the Asian Development Bank, the Philippines is the 5th most mineralized country in the world and ranks second in gold reserves, 4th in copper, fifth in nickel, and sixth in chromite. 

By our own government estimates, there are around 21.5 billion tons of metal deposits buried beneath our soil. This includes nickel, iron, copper and gold. But for all the wealth that lies waiting to be unleashed for the benefit of its true owners, mineral extraction has not been as great an economic driver as it could be. Ghosts from the past such as mismanagement and fear and ignorance have all served to clip our wings, and deny us even the dream of flight.

But all that is now past. I am proud to say that our dreams of prosperity can now be attained. Executive Order No. 79 has been signed by President Aquino.

The Mining Act of 1995 may have attracted praises and objections from various sectors. It is not a perfect law but experts from countries where mining thrives have paid tribute to this legislation by calling it one of the very best in the world.

EO 79 has elicited similar receptions from society and while it too, is not perfect, it is a well-conceived policy. 

Dean Antonio La Viña, an environmental policy expert and dean of the Ateneo School of Government, calls EO 79 “a good and progressive issuance for which President Aquino merits congratulations.”[1] He goes on to comment that while the government’s mining policy, as illustrated by the EO, may not be perfect, it is good. “In fact, it is very good,” he says.

The good dean is not alone in seeing the value of this Executive Order. Many more now see a clear path and structure towards a responsible and profitable growth in the mineral industry.

The Mining Act, together with EO 79, provide firm basis upon which those who invest can make a decent profit, and a country hungry for development can reap just gains from the treasures it holds.

The Executive Order shows what is possible when government takes on the challenges of our times with transparency and good governance in mind. The President and I are one in the conviction that good governance and transparency will always encourage businesses to flourish and drive economic growth. The fruits of our labors prove just that, and serve to strengthen our resolve to infuse all other efforts with the same spirit.

A multipartite approach — one that involves industry experts, the academe, the local and national government and civil society leaders — can help redefine the mining industry. We can achieve sustainable, environmentally-sound mining principles and continuously refine such a framework that upholds both economic and social justice.

This conference happens at the best possible time. As you gather over three days, and with the EO as your guide, the entire nation looks forward to all the dreams you can make real, and all the lives you can change. 

Thank you very much.

Mabuhay kayong lahat.

Follow the Live Blog on the 2012 Mining Conference for a blow-by-blow account of issues being discussed.

Chamber of Mines of the Philippines president Philip Romualdez spoke before and introduced Vice President Binay at the conference. Romualdez urged Binay to convey to government officials in charge of crafting mining policy and rules that the industry players are “shocked” at the “patently illegal” rules. Read and watch here

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