After DENR's mining audit, what happens now?

MANILA, Philippines – With over half of the large-scale mines in the country ordered closed, what's next for the Philippine mining industry?

According to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the concerned mines can still appeal the decision with the Office of the President. (READ: Lopez: Mining audit team wanted fines, I chose closures)

As for the 12 mines that passed the mining audit, Environment Secretary Gina Lopez said the DENR plans to work together with them in an area development approach that will use the mining companies' social development and management programs (SDMP) funds.

"You know, even these SDMP funds are not used well....They're given to the politicians; they're given to one community again and again and again, and it doesn't create any kind of area development impact," she said in a Rappler Talk interview on Monday, February 6.

She said these mining companies "might even come out ahead" if they work together with government to "create a difference in the area" through total economic valuation and the use of their SDMP funds. 

"I mean, people might even begin to love them. But they mustn't do anything which adversely affects the environment. If they can operate in that way, then I will help them make an even bigger difference without even asking them for more money," she added.

The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) estimated that roughly P66.6 billion in annual production and P16.7 billion in taxes would be lost as a result of the DENR's decision. 

But even with these numbers, Lopez is still more concerned about the damage of those mining operations on communities. (READ: 'Corruption, gov't inefficiency' to blame for environmental destruction)

"For whatever they've done, the damage that is incurred by irresponsible operations is far, far, far, far greater for the number of people that are employed there. The number of people that have been adversely affected for decades far outstrips that kind of numbers," she explained.

Lopez even reiterated that in the Philippines, mining contributes just 0.6% of total employment, and 0.004% of government revenue. For her, the country is just "losing out big time" and "suffering big time." (READ: Confusion over the mining list: How did DENR decide on closure?)

"I have profound, consistent experiences of how taking care of the environment is absolutely the way to go in this country, and that extractive industries which damage the environment kill quality of life and benefit only a few," she noted.

Lopez also seemed unfazed with how the DENR's decision will affect the world's nickel supply. The Philippines, after all, is the world's biggest nickel exporter. 

"Why is the nickel that people want more important than the food we eat, and the air we breathe, and the quality of life of our children? Why will giving the world nickel kill my opportunity…of upgrading the economy of this country? If we keep our country beautiful, I can sell that. It's ecotourism," she explained.

She said taking care of the resources of an area through an area development approach will "redound on the economy, but it's based on decency and fair play." 

"It's a mistake to believe that where it's mineral land, the only thing that can happen there is mining. I have friends that live on mineral land and they're producing a lot of money on agriculture, and the place is an ecotourism place. Who said that the only way to do things is to mine and excavate our resources?" – Rappler.com

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.

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