Bantay Kalikasan

Much Ado About Mining?

Green Thumb Coalition
March 13, 2017

The unreasonable amount of time dedicated by the Commission on Appointments to mining in last week’s hearings begs one to ask, since when has the DENR become solely preoccupied by this small subset of its total collection of responsibilities? Perhaps since the Commission on Appointments allowed an exceedingly long list of oppositors to grab the limelight in order to discredit Gina Lopez.


Masterminded by the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP), the ruse is predicated on the premise that mining is a vibrant industry that the Philippines cannot do without. And this is where the subterfuge begins.

Economic disinformation

Over the last eight months, through a massive media campaign, the COMP has bandied the notion that mining is the country’s economic savior. It has made an oft-quoted statement that the closure of 23 mines will affect 1.2 million people, and claimed that the industry contributes P70 billion to the country’s coffers on an annual basis.

These claims run completely counter to the data at hand. Despite the Philippines being the world’s largest nickel supplier, mining only contributed a total of P10.88 billion in taxes and other revenues to government in 2014 says the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). This figure, from the EITI, is almost seven times smaller than the figure actually quoted by the Chamber.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia says that based on the Mineral Asset Accounts of the Philippines, the mining sector only contributed 0.7% of GDP between 2000 to 2015 on an annual basis, and has only generated an average of 236,400 jobs annually from 2011 and 2015. The last figure lumps employment from both metallic and non-metallic mining, making COMP’s assertion that 1.2 million people will be affected by 23 mine closures an alternative fact at best.

On the other hand, agriculture contributes 12% to the nation's GDP and employees 30% of the Philippine workforce. Tourism contributes to 10.6% to the country's GDP and is responsible for as much as 10% of the nation's jobs. In 2015, tourism directly employed close to 5 million people.

That's five million jobs for tourism, another 15 million or so for agriculture. Compare this to 240 thousand jobs for mining. There is no comparison; faced with real data, COMP’s argument falls on its face.



Claims of progress

The COMP has arrogantly claimed that mining “eases suffering by delivering social services and by protecting the environment.”

This runs counter to data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), stating that mining provinces tend to have a very high incidence of poverty.  Provinces that host mines, such as Agusandel Norte and del Sur, Surigao del Norte and del Sur, Leyte,Camarines Norte, and Zamboanga del Norte, all have poverty incidence way above the norm of 26.3 percent.

Another particularly insidious claim is that mining revenues are game-changing for host communities.This is far from the truth.

Studies done by the Palawan State University, Bicol University, and the Mindoro State College of Agriculture reveal mines have a negative revenue impact on host communities over the long term. The Total Economic Value of mining operations in Palawan, Albay and Oriental Mindoro(defined as the social and environmental costs of a mining operation over a 15-year period) show that given the present fiscal regime, mines in those areas will actually cost these provinces over P1 billion in damage over 15 years. Yet the government gets almost nothing in exchange for the country’s minerals.

Ironically, instead of ushering progress, mining actually brings a host of environmental and health problems. These are just some of the visible impacts of large-scale mining, apart from socio-economic issues such as land-grabbing, destruction of livelihood sources of many communities, and violations of people’s rights.

Shifting focus

Instead of talking about the real work of the DENR, the Chamber of Mines has led the CA down a winding path of distraction and evasion of culpability. The Commission, led by the Chamber, has made the country witness to a parade of special interests in the form of disgruntled professors, misguided students, and a host of other actors whose agendas represent but a sliver of our national interest.

Instead of a discussion about the DENR’s programs to protect the environment and make full use of its natural resources, people were forced to endure a academics make dubious assertions about the death of the economy should Gina Lopez put a stop to mining. This despite the fact that from the $3.4 billion in mineral exports, only 0.7 percent of government revenues comes from mining, and only 0.06 percent is from royalties (IBON).

Instead of allowing the CA to examine Lopez’s roadmap for the agency, we are forced to endure questions about job losses should the mines be shut down. Yet little attention is paid to the fact that almost all mine workers are hired on a contractual basis, and paid slave wages ranging from P250 to P350 a day. These workers live from day to day, without benefits, without security of tenure, and with the very real threat of being laid off instantly once the mine’s profits turn out lower than expected.

According to IBON’s latest industry report, mining firms in the Top 1,000 Corporations saw their profits increase from a cumulative net income of Php7.6 billion in 2004, to a whopping Php52.4 billion in 2013. The truth is, with all the profits these mines have made over the years, the COMP can easily afford to keep their workers until final closure happens. In fact, as Gina Lopez asserts, they can also afford to hire these workers for the rehabilitation program that required once the mine closes. The question every mining executive needs to ask is, what matters more, people or profits?

Questions for Congress

Given all the problems the country is facing from habitat loss, to climate change, to pollution, we go back to the key question: Why has the CA chosen to focus two entire sessions – a total of 12 hours of deliberations – solely on the question of mining?

Why did the CA devote hours of deliberations on thousands of mining jobs when soil erosion threatens the livelihoods of tens of millions of farmers? Why did the CA not question the millions of trees felled on thousands of hectares of open pit mines when the Philippines’ has become the world’s No. 1 victim of climate change? How can the CA ignore the fact that the Philippines is one of the most bio-diverse countries of the world, containing 70% and 80% of the world’s plant and animal species, and focus instead on saving companies that cause species extinction in the country?

We need better questions from the CA if we want to get the leaders our country deserves.