By ACE ALEGRE
BAGUIO CITY (November 11, 2011) — The government is moving to exempt corporate mining from total log ban policy, Leo Jasareno, director of Mines and Geosciences, said in a discussion about Philippine mining at the Minerals Industry Symposium held at Camp John Hay last Thursday.
The exemption from total log ban is one among many “urgent needs” the Philippine government is thinking of pushing into its “new mining policy.” It is slated to come out in December, and it aims to propel the minerals industry, now regarded as a “sunset industry”, into new heights.
But the plan does not sit well with environmental activists allied with the non-government Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment. Calling the exemption “as a serious offense to the critical state of the Philippine forest cover,” Clemente Bautista Jr. warned that “with over one million hectares of land including watersheds and protected forest areas already covered by mining permits and applications, mining’s exclusion from log ban will likely worsen the environmental and social crises being faced by Filipino communities.” He added that it will contribute to the fast deforestation and degradation of our remaining forests.
The exemption is a grave environmental crime, and the government overlooks the fact that most of the mining concessions are located in ecologically critical forest areas, Bautista said.
The Philippine forest cover is now down to an estimated 6-percent of the original forest habitat, and it remains threatened because an average of 157,400-hectares are being lost to deforestation every year.
“It takes decades for a tree to fully mature and function sufficiently in providing ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, soil stability and provision of livelihood,” Bautista Jr. explained.
But Jasareno of the MGB persisted in saying that the government wants to enroll mining firms into the National Greening Program that aims to plant 3.5 billion trees until 2012.
“We are focused in protecting the environment as we gear towards responsible miners,” said Engr. Louie Sarmiento, president of the Philippine Mine Safety and Environment Association (PMSEA). He added that the 1995 Mining Law aptly requires responsibility in reforesting and rehabilitating areas that have been mined out. “We should allow RA 7942 to be fully implemented.”
“Mining Issues Being Addressed”
Aside from issues such as the use of lands in mining threatening food security, fishing grounds and indigenous peoples, “there is also a strong perception that mining is an environmental despoiler and the government seemed unable to watch out for it,” Dir. Jasareno admitted.
The MGB official noted, too, that the minerals industry has insufficient inventory of mining potentials. He said there is also the “problem” of security of mining investments coupled with the gathering opposition to it by local government units.
“We are heading towards enhancing environmental standards,” Jasareno said, and they are seeking to include the small-scale mining operations into the Environmental Compliance Certificate process.
We also need to pursue early resolution of cases against mining companies, Jasareno said. He cited as examples of what they want to complete more quickly the issuances of Writs of Kalikasan and Temporary Protection Orders and approval of mining permits.
The government is now reportedly fast-tracking the finalization of its policy on mining to address the problem or issues of lack of baseline data, policy inconsistencies of local and national laws, governance and law expectations, lack of total economic valuation, increased government shares, and the adverse impact of environmental degradation and climate change.
But even before this mining policy comes out, Bautista of Kalikasan is already predicting that there would be “greater opposition by mining-affected communities from Northern Luzon to Southern Mindanao” awaits the government’s tact on large-scale mining.