If we keep our ores underground, we will miss the boat again.”
Mineral resources are the indispensable natural endowments of our planet that humans started harnessing since the stone ages more than 6,000 years ago. From stone tools, we now have all these gadgets and technologies that have become integral to our daily survival.The most prosperous nations have maximized the harvesting of their mineral resources for sustaining the development of new technologies essential for the operations of all its industries and is integral in accelerating the pace of new innovations. The International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) projected ranking for 2019 lists the United States, China, Japan, Germany, India, France, United Kingdom, Italy, Brazil and Canada as the top ten in terms of Gross National Product. All of them of course have a well-developed and vibrant mining sector.I’ve pointed out many times in previous columns on this subject that the Philippine mining sector is a “trillion-dollar” potential just waiting to be channeled to spark sustained prosperity, not just for its host communities but as a long-term engine of growth in remote undeveloped areas where responsible mining is the best, and actually, the most viable option for fast progress on a big scale.So, is this another case of government shooting itself in the foot, with so many confusing, unpredictable policies; a costly misunderstanding of a much-maligned industry who, not without its faults, has been eclipsed with so much demonizing from unscientific anti-mining propaganda backed by antidevelopment agendas? Perhaps it is all of these. Government and industry can actually resolve the complexity of sector through strict enforcement of the existing mining law and environmental regulations. They are, like many of our laws, recognized as a global benchmark for mining regulation that even goes beyond the policy regimes of the big mining economies.I am hopeful that the industry gets its chance to restart what was once one of the major contributors of the country’s GDP. In the last Congress, the House of Representatives passed what could have been a new mining revenue-sharing regime that, after a long series of deliberations, is the most viable compromise with the legitimate large-scale mining sector. For lack of time, however, this did not pass in the Senate. As Congress is back in session, deliberations are expected to take up the re-filed version and should now have enough time and momentum to finally become law. Linked to the passing of the new revenue sharing scheme is the lifting of Executive Order 79 which effectively stopped the mining industry from further expansion because of its ban on new mining permits.There’s some good news though, especially for the municipalities of Tigana-an (second-class municipality), Plaser (fourth-class municipality), Tubod and Sison (fifth-class municipalities) in Surigao del Norte with the recent DENR’s approval of the underground sub-level cave mining method for the Silangan Copper-Gold Project. This is a large scale, high grade gold and copper project of Silangan Mindanao Mining Company, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Philex seen to become a major copper and gold producer of the region. The project’s Boyongan deposit is estimated to have 81 million tons of mineable reserves of high-quality ore grades, not counting the ore reserves in Bayugo. $750 million has been earmarked for the development of the Boyongan ore body.
In my interview with Philex President and CEO, Eulalio B. Austin, they are targeting to start construction in 2020 and have already started hiring some people which is estimated to reach a peak about 3,500 workers wherein local residents will be given priority. Had it not been for regulatory delays, the Silangan project should have started this year with a projected production of 4 million tons of high-grade ore a year.Unlike the common criticism of anti-mining groups, the people of the host communities of the Silangan project are very supportive and the anticipation can be felt with increasing activities in the four host municipalities.Austin points out that, just like their highly successful PADCAL mine, building symbiotic relationships with the community has been a priority even before the initial phase of exploration. All 13 barangays of the four host municipalities have endorsed the project and even formalized their approval with a manifesto.The first infrastructure concern that is now being addressed is to ensure that the water supply of the nearby residents will not be affected. Deep wells have been drilled and early development of environmental controls are being put in place. Add to this, P11 million has been donated to boost the capacity the local hospital for the medical needs of Silangan’s employees; P115 million for the Silangan community development program; P24 million for Corporate Social Responsibility activities; 2,134 elementary and highs school academic grants with a yearly supply of school materials; medical and dental services for over 19,500 patients; livelihood skills and enhancement training; construction of public footbridge and the Hinapuyan Chapel. Under the Mining Act, 1.5 percent of the project’s operating cost will go to the social development management program wherein the LGU’s are able to determine the needed projects for their constituents. All these will directly impact the more than 71,000 population of the 4 municipalities and like all successful mining projects, will quickly bloom into thriving first-class municipalities.In one of the President’s SONA speeches he directed to, “Exalt all concerned government agencies and local government units to uphold the concept of inter-generational responsibility in exploring and the utilization of our mineral wealth, protection and preservation of our biodiversity, anchored on the right to balanced and healthy ecology.”DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu said: “We will be coming out with a proposed policy reinventing mining that will spread the benefits for the people without compromising the environment and natural resources of the country.”There are 11 stranded mining projects worth US$ 23 billion in investments waiting to engage as a long-term partner that will potentially bring prosperity to millions of families in underdeveloped municipalities where there no opportunities for big growth. The technology-dependent society we now live in presents a great opportunity to develop our mineral resources. If we keep our ores underground, we will miss the boat, again.