Tuesday, December 12, 2017

BWorld 168, Uncertainty in mining policy and the Manicani debate

* This is my column in BusinessWorld last November 23, 2017.

The Duterte administration’s mining policy shows continuing uncertainty.

First, ex-DENR secretary Gina Lopez issued a Department Administrative Order (DAO 2017-10) banning open-pit mining for metallic products.

After her rejection by the Commission on Appointments (CA) last May, it was expected that her successor, Sec. Roy Cimatu, would recall or reverse the order. He did not. So the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) formally recommended the lifting of the ban last October. Then President Duterte himself declared that the ban remains.

This roller-coaster style in policy is captured in recent stories in BusinessWorld, their publication date this year is indicated:

1. “End open-pit mining ban — MICC” (Oct.25)

2. “Miners face longer wait for end to open-pit ban” (Nov. 21)

3. “Better prices push up value of metal production even as volumes drop” (Nov.22)

The last report mitigates the gloom in the industry, that while metallic mineral output in the country from January-September 2017 has declined, world prices of copper, nickel and silver have increased, according to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB).

This leads us to the big mining potential of the Philippines compared to its neighbors in North and Southeast Asia. One indicator of such potential is mineral rents, defined by the World Bank as “the difference between the value of production for a stock of minerals at world prices and their total costs of production. Minerals included in the calculation are tin, gold, lead, zinc, iron, copper, nickel, silver, bauxite, and phosphate.”

In 2015 in the ASEAN, only Laos has a higher mineral rents/GDP ratio than the Philippines. Even Indonesia and China, which are abundant in mineral resources, have lower ratio than the Philippines. Many African countries have very high ratio, partly because they have high output and partly because they have a low denominator, GDP size (see table).

Russia’s ratio that year was 0.9, Canada 0.5%, US 0.1%. World average was 0.4%, all lower than the Philippines. Australia indeed is a good model in developing the industry with high ratio despite its huge denominator.

Among the recent high profile debates in the industry is the renewal of the Mining Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) of Hinatuan Mining Corp. (HMC) in Manicani Island, municipality of Guiuan, province of Eastern Samar. The current MPSA (1992-2017) will expire this year and hence, a renewal is applied by the company.

Some facts and numbers here which I got from a friend, BS Geology student in UP Diliman, Ralph Abainza, who went to Manicani last Nov. 14-15.

• MPSA covers 420 hectares or 36% of Manicani Island’s total land area of 1,165 hectares but actual mine area is less than 3% of total land area, the other 33% are roads, community projects like school buildings, housing, offices and equipment area, etc.

• Of the 25 years MPSA, active but discontinuous mine operations occurred only for an accumulated 5 years.

• Island’s soil is mainly LATERITIC, highly mineralized that agriculture may survive but will never be sustainable nor profitable.

• Barangay surveys of residents in Manicani showed a 85% — 15% approval vs disapproval of mining in the island.

Australia is a good model for the Philippines and other countries. Mining occupies only 0.02% of total land area but the sector contributes 9% of GDP — compare that with the Philippines’ exports of millions of OFWs who contribute 10% of GDP annually. There are also no “small scale” mining in Australia, only big corporate operations that are easier to monitor for compliance with mining laws by the government.

The sector is heavily mechanized, monster machines, and engines at work at open-pit mines, giving high-paying jobs to tens or hundreds of thousands of people, and can give lots of community projects to cover even nonworkers of the industry.

The Philippine government should learn more from rich and developed Australia. There are more mining entrepreneurs, investors, workers, community beneficiaries and tax revenues there than anti-mining activists.

With this in mind, we should just strictly implement existing laws and not change them arbitrarily depending on the whims of the Environment secretary or the President. We should have a rule of law, not arbitrary rule of men.

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