Correcting lies and disinformation

I presented at the Mining Forum to correct lies, disinformation and also ignorance

GERARDO H. BRIMO. President of Nickel Asia Corporation and the Director of the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines

 I presented at the Mining Forum to correct lies (yes, lies!), disinformation, and also ignorance (I left that out in the title).

If you think that the mining industry in our country can affect food security, biodiversity, Palawan, and if you think that nothing good can come out of it, read on!

The attack by the Save Palawan Movement that was started by Gina Lopez and allied organizations is on the large-scale metallic industry. There is never any mention of small scale-scale mining.

This is the face of it.

I do not begrudge small-scale miners. They are driven by poverty, the same kind of poverty that drives people to do dynamite fishing or ‘slash and burn’ farming which is rampant all over the country.

Nevertheless, it is destructive to the environment and can seriously affect the safety and health of the small-scale miners. In fact, mercury is still being used by this sector. Why is there no mention of this in Gina’s presentation? Is she not concerned about the environment?

It is a big “industry.” In 2010, P42.9-B in gold was sold to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas on a “no-names” basis, much larger than the gold output of the large-scale sector.

This is counted as output from the minerals sector, but since there are no taxes being paid on this portion, it distorts the ratio of taxes paid by the industry vis-à-vis its total output.  

On to large-scale mining, the map on the left hand side of the slide is from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), and the yellow dots indicate applications for exploration permits all over the country.

This has been badly misinterpreted by Gina and others to mean that the country will be mined out! Who can blame them, though, for that is what the map indicates at first glance, but is it enough to stop at first glance and not get to the bottom of things?

When one files for an exploration permit, no matter where the application lies, the application gets plotted on a ‘control’ map.  That is why there are so many dots.

Later on the MGB will process the application, determine if it is in an area that is open to exploration (and mining) and if so, approve. If not, the application is disapproved and the dot is taken out of the map. Many of the yellow dots in the map will not be approved.

The red dots in the map on the right shows the large-scale metallic mines, occupying only 60,000 hectares or 0.2% of the country’s entire landmass. That’s all.

Why so many exploration permit applications and only so few operating large-scale metallic mines? Because the odds of finding a commercially viable mineral deposit are very low. See the global statistics on mining on the left of the slide below.

The odds might be better in the Philippines, which is well mineralized, but even if we assume a doubling of the large-scale mines, it would occupy only 0.4% of the country’s entire landmass.

One need not be a scientist to figure out that such small area of the total country’s landmass cannot possibly affect food security, and one would indeed be correct!

This is apart from the fact that mineralized lands are simply not conducive to agriculture. Mining and agriculture are not mutually exclusive. It’s never been the case and any attempt to link the two is simply tantamount to scare tactics, to make you believe that if mining were to grow in the country, we would run out of food! That is preposterous!

Well, let’s not mince words. It is a lie!

The same mistake was made in the case of Palawan. The map on the left shows the many applications for exploration permits, many of them in protected or no-go areas for mining, and they will not be approved.

Again, the map has been badly misinterpreted to mean that Palawan will be mined out!

The map on the right (above) shows that there are only 3 large-scale nickel mines in Palawan, all in the southern portion of the province, far from the Underground River and the UNESCO heritage sites. 

Right in the middle of the map is a large protected area under the National Integrated Protected Areas Systems (NIPAS), a no-go zone for mining or even agriculture. So what is the fuss all about?

If the fear that Palawan would be all mined-out was based on the left hand map, that fear was unfounded and was a serious mistake!

There are in fact many areas closed to mining, as the illustration below indicates.

It is interesting to note that Palawan has its own environmental law that specifies no-go zones for mining or other activities.

So there you have it. Three laws “protect” Palawan – the Mining Act itself, the Strategic Environmental Plan for Palawan and the NIPAS.  So what is the fuss all about?

These pictures below show the mining areas in Rio Tuba in Bataraza, Palawan.

That is a 1970s photo that shows the surface of the lateritic nickel deposit as it looked like before mine development started.

Laterite is a type of soil full of iron (beyond 40% in some cases) and, in the case of the Philippines, some nickel.

It is not an agricultural area (you can’t grow rice there!), much less bio-diverse.

The picture in the middle shows Berong Nickel, also in Palawan, tertiary grown with stunted trees because of the lateritic condition of the soil.

On its right, an aerial photo of the mountains in Surigao Norte, within the Surigao Mineral Reservation. The laterite here goes all the way to the surface – scratch the surface and you get red-looking soil, iron oxide.

No forest, no agriculture within the lateritic area and prone to erosion and siltation when the rains come, discoloring coastal waters quite visibly because of the color of the soil.

The next photos show, on the left, Philex Mining in Benguet province and, on the right, Tampakan area in South Cotabato.

Philex Mining in Benguet has steep terrain, logged out in the 1950s and no agriculture.

Tampakan area in South Cotabato was logged out for the most part or subject to “slash and burn” farming as what the photo (right, above) shows. There is still a small primary forest in the area that won’t be touched (by law it cannot be) should mine development proceed.

Are these areas bio-diverse or agricultural areas? I think by now you know the answer.

The pictures above show the lateritic nickel mine operation of Rio Tuba in Bataraza, Palawan.

Again, it is not an agricultural area and the vegetation is mostly shrubs and stunted trees.

There are 4 things to note here.

First, this is an industrial area, not an area suitable for picnics eco-tourism. There are other areas for that.

Second, minerals are God-given and we can’t live without them. I should have told Gina that God willing, her arteries would remain clean and she would not need a cardiovascular or coronary stent. It is partially made of nickel due to its non-corrosive properties.

If she did, it is nickel, possibly from Rio Tuba or the other nickel mines in the Philippines, which would save her life! What a supreme irony!

Third, lateritic nickel mines are shallow, no more than 20 meters deep on the average, and therefore not difficult to rehabilitate.

Fourth, mine rehabilitation is a requirement of the 1995 Mining Act and we all have to set aside funds for this.

Any discussion on un-rehabilitated mines of the past, the so-called legacy mines, is irrelevant to the discussion on mining today. It’s that simple.

Because Rio Tuba has been going on for some time now, there are mined out areas that have already been rehabilitated. It’s what is called progressive rehabilitation. Here’s how one such area looks like.

Rio Tuba has rehabilitated about a fourth of its total mining area, planting over half a million trees (hardwood species) in the process. In one year (2011), it spent close to P60 million in environmental expenses, including rehabilitation.

And here’s what it looks like inside a rehabilitated mine area.

We’ve created a forest where none existed before. Those are hardwood trees grown in the Rio Tuba nursery, interspersed with some fruit trees to encourage wildlife to populate the area.

I could have shown slide after slide of the wildlife that is eventually found in the rehabilitated areas since we track each and every one of them, but I only had 15 minutes to present.

Talking about wildlife, I showed this slide.

That croc was captured in, of all places, Rio Tuba, and on its way to the Palawan Crocodile Farm.

If the waters of Rio Tuba were toxic, (they like to say that) they would not be there, or grow to that size! Therefore, the banner in the ‘no to mining in palawan’ website that I show on top of the picture is a bunch of crock! Well, another lie!

I covered a portion of that banner on this slide, but that will be uncovered below. Read on!

The pictures below show a Philex project in Zamboanga del Norte that has been almost fully rehabilitated.

Below are parts of the Taganito mine site in Surigao del Norte.

Don’t freak out with the picture on the left.  It is a mining area within the Surigao Mineral Reservation and not suitable for anything else. It is a lateritic nickel mine, so the top 20 meters is mined, not the entire mountain, and it is then rehabilitated.

And reforestation….

Here’s a little known fact. The mining industry (note: large-scale) has planted 15 million trees in the past 10 years.

If you don’t believe me, please, be kind enough to check with the DENR. They have the figures. Every year we compete with each other to see who plants the most trees and awards are given.

Time now to go to what I call mining and building human capital.

We are all required to now spend 1.5% of our operating costs to social development programs, and this is done in consultation with the host communities.

The funds go to sustainable projects such as infrastructure, livelihood programs, water projects, cooperatives, training, medical care, and schools…

Yes, dear reader, the mining industry educates thousands of kids every year, and these are good schools!

And now to mining and Indigenous Peoples (IPs), one of my favorite topics.

There’s a law in place called the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997. If you want to do anything in their ancestral lands, mining or anything else for that matter, you need to get their consent and compensate them. And so we have.

In 2010 the members of the Chamber of Mines (note: not all operating mines are members) paid close to P300 million in royalties to IPs, undoubtedly the most marginalized sector of our society.

Some of them, for the first time in their lives, have some money in their pockets, and it comes from the mining industry!

Here’s another little known fact. In Rio Tuba there are about 13,000 members of the Palaw’an tribe, but they don’t have ancestral land title.

Nevertheless, Rio Tuba treats them as if they do and provides a number of services. One of them is housing. See the picture on the top left – that’s where they live.

We offered them housing in coordination with the Gawad Kalinga Foundation, on a voluntary basis of course, and they have accepted. Since then, 6 clusters with a total of 210 housing units have been built and we have committed to building up to 1,000 houses to accommodate them all. But there is more.

They get free medical care in the company hospital, a number of livelihood projects and an Indigenous Learning System, accredited by the Dep Ed, which educates about 800 IP children and adults!

Who does all this? Government? NGOs? Gina? No, it’s a mining company for crying out loud! And they want to stop this??

So now let’s go back to the ‘no to mining in Palawan website’ and show the rest of the banner.

Oh, so now we’re killing indigenous people? That’s slander, no? Here we are, housing them, taking care of their medical needs, educating and giving them livelihood projects…. and a lie like this is being spread? Shame on the Save Palawan Movement!

And they use them as well, at least those that they can grab (bribe?). The lady that you see in the slide, a member of the Palaw’an tribe, receives all of what is listed on the slide as a beneficiary of our social development programs, but allows herself to be used by the anti-mining groups in their propaganda.

Let’s move on to the issue of mining and poverty.

Sorry, a lot of info on this slide, but I only had 15 minutes to present. What this shows are statements being made about mining not contributing to the economic development of mining areas, citing the Caraga region and particularly Bataraza, the host municipality of Rio Tuba, as examples.

It then proceeds to link the catastrophe of Sendong with the industry in a Business Mirror article quoting Christian Monsod. 

Let’s deal with the latter first. There are no large-scale mines anywhere near Cagayan do Oro or Iligan city. Mr. Monsod could have easily have gotten this information from the MGB, but it appears he chose not to.

On the issue of poverty in the Caraga region, the mining companies there pay a total of about P1.1-B in excise taxes and royalties. The local government units in Caraga are entitled to 40% of that (over P400 million).

Can you imagine what the region would be like without this source of income?

Let’s now address the issue of Bataraza. Take a look at the pictures below.

Is that a poor municipality? If it is, I hate to think what the other 22 municipalities in Palawan are like!

It is not difficult to understand why it is actually a prosperous municipality.

The municipality is host to the Rio Tuba mine and the Coral Bay nickel processing plant, the first of its kind in our country, with combined personnel of 4,200 (including contractors).

Apply the multiplier effect (easily 5 times) and the average family size in our country, and that’s a lot of people! That’s a lot of mouths to feed, and that spurs agriculture, fishing, a whole bunch of services for them and so on.

Consider the combined payroll of close to P600 million in one year, combined social expenses of close to P200-M spent in Bataraza alone, and combined Palawan-based taxes and fees of P160-M in 2010.

Consider that the employees get free housing and utilities, free medical care, free education for their kids up to high school, yearly bonuses and so on.  Apart from food, their salaries are largely disposable income, spent in Bataraza and other parts of Palawan.

Do you get my point? (By the way, we’re looking for mechanics, engineers, geologists, medical technicians, pharmacists, environmentalists – go to the Nickel Asia website and apply! It does not get any better than this!).

Do you not agree that a poor country such as ours requires all feasible forms of economic activity to spur development and make a dent on poverty? These activities are not mutually exclusive.

And so I ended with this slide, and I hope that by now you realize why.

I’d be happy to answer any questions on this. Post on Rappler and you will get a reply.

Thank you for reading this far! –


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