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Davao, Caraga environment officials sacked

Environment Secretary Ramon Paje has relieved 31 DENR officials in Davao Region and Caraga following the confiscation of P16-million worth of “hot logs” at Manila North Harbor purportedly shipped from Davao.
Paje said these officials have not done enough to implement the nationwide logging ban because his office still received reports of log confiscations in thousands of pieces.
Relieved from their post were Davao Region executive director Jim Sampulna, Caraga executive director Leonardo Sibbaluca, Caraga regional technical director (RTD) for forestry Musa Saruang, Davao Region RTD for forestry Hardinado Patnugo, and Davao Forest Resources Conservation Division OIC chief Claudio Jumao-as.
Also ordered relieved were Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer (Penro)-Agusan del Norte Rosendo Asunto, Penro-Agusan del Sur Belo Udarbe, Penro-Surigao del Sur Domingo Cabrera Jr., Penro-Davao del Norte Marcia Isip, Penro-Davao Oriental Gregorio Lagura, and Penro-Compostela Valley Julius Valdez.
Community Environment and Natural Resources Officers (Cenros) Vicente Sembrano of Butuan City/Nasipit, Elvin Indig of Tubay Cabadbaran, Ruel Efren of Bayugan, Jerome Tadem of Bunawan, Alberto Bacanaya of Loreto, Marlon Gelingo of San Francisco, Eufracio Subayno of Talacogon, Mario Tioaquen of Cantilan, Ferdinand Alba of Bislig, Jose Mario Reyes of Lianga, and Rogelio Montenegro of Tandag were also sacked from their posts.
The Cenros from Davao Region who were also removed from their posts were Napoleon Paje of Davao City (West), Melchor Ozaraga of Davao City (East), Robinson Camacho of Baganga, Basilio Caralos of Lupon, Restituta Dime of Mati, Dioscor Gavarra of Manay, Marvin Parilla of Maco, Victor Billones of Monkayo, and Antonio Inguillo of Nabunturan.

“Let’s not kill mining. Instead, we should rationalize it.”



The mining industry today is at a crossroad. Both for small scale and large scale mining. Anytime this month, President Aquino will announce his administration’s “new” mining policies. My sources told me the office of Executive Secretary Jojo Ochoa will put on the presidential desk soon for the President’s signature the executive order. A task force commissioned to study mining has sent in its recommendations.

There are “leaks” going the rounds of what those papers contain. Some are accurate, others are mere speculations. Some mining industry players fear that a radical shift in the government’s mining policy will not only drive away foreign investments but will kill existing projects already on stream. When this happens, the whole economy inevitably, together with the people, will get the ultimate backlash. The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, headed by Phillip Romualdez has a policy paper for consideration on behalf of the mining industry. Not to be outdone, anti-mining advocates, notably Ms. Gina Lopez of ABS CBN Foundation, including the Catholic church, intensify their pressure tactics, to somehow sway official decisions. It’s fair game for all.

(Lawyer Jesus G. Dureza was government peace panel chair in the negotiations with the MILF under the Arroyo administration from 2001 to 2003 and was later named Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (2005 to 2008). He heads Advocacy MindaNOW Foundation, Inc. and is now publisher of the Davao City-based Mindanao Times. This piece is from his syndicated column, Advocacy MindaNOW).

What President Aquino will announce soon will definitely have strategic implications on a long term. It will have far reaching effects – positively or negatively, depending on what will come out and which side of the fence you are in.

NO TO “STOP MINING” – In my case, I am for sustainable and responsible mining. I do not agree with the “stop mining” or “no to mining” campaign of anti-mining advocates, although I respect their views. I am for the rationalization of the mining industry to make it a potent driver of the economy; to improve the lives of those in remote and far flung areas, mostly our indigenous peoples or lumads. They never had this opportunity ever.

To me, stopping mining is nothing but a sure-fire formula of depriving the poor and the forgotten , an opportunity to make a breakthrough from poverty. I refuse to accept the proposition that we leave alone the rich minerals lying there beneath their feet “for the future generation.” By golly, why worry more about the future when we cannot even take care yet of the present.

The anti-mining campaigners can easily whip up emotions. To agitate support, they present doomsday scenarios. Appearing to be taking the high moral ground, they ride on tragedies, like floods and calamities, as their convenient propaganda vehicles. They resort to scare tactics. And they squeeze dry those incidents “to the max.” Well and good. Their campaigns should pressure the mining industry, government and all players to do better. But to kill the industry is something else. Because they also kill the dreams of the poor.

Yes, indeed, there are culprits and bad guys in the mining industry who deserve the bashing. But there are guys too who do good . For example, we should not lump up the sins of the small scale miners with those of large-scale corporate miners who have been doing a good job. The latter have the ways and means of addressing the dangers anti-mining sectors predict may happen. Big, developed countries like the US, Canada, Australia built their economies starting with mining. Their mining footprints did not devastate these countries. Look at where they are today. Many of these reputed mining companies come from these capitals and have imbibed the best practices of the industry where they come from.

WHERE IS NATIONAL GOVT? – We have enough good laws to address many of these valid concerns. The implementation however falls short. Our own national government must take the lead to promote mining but at the same time seeing to it that the industry does good than harm Unfortunately, this is not so today. Government, when the crunch comes, even abdicates its own authority.

A case in point. It showed reluctance in exercising its authority to crack the whip on local government units exceeding their authorities. It did not decisively act to help the multi-billion dollar SMI Tampakan project, a project the government says it is supporting, when the South Cotabato province passed an ordinance disallowing it. While DENR Secretary Ramon Paje repeatedly announced support for the SMI’s plans to operate an open pit mine, he denied SMI’s ECC (Environment Compliance Certificate) because it is into open pit mining. What contradiction! In Zamboanga del Norte province, TVIRD, a mining firm affiliated with a Canadian mother company which has been responsibly operating for about 9 years and well accepted by its host communities but still with a few years of remaining mine life had to go to court alone to battle a similar ordinance. It has surfaced lately in the court hearings that the province is exploiting environment issues when its real motive is to shakedown TVIRD into giving more to the province. Up to now, the national government, supposedly the owner of the minerals and the entity that contracted the mining company to extract minerals, is just sitting helplessly by the wayside. No wonder many investors, mostly foreign, are now starting to look somewhere else to go. Pity because we are now hoarse in crying for foreign investments to come. In this case, we foolishly squander it by driving them away.

WHERE’S MINING INDUSTRY? Tragically, the sector directly affected, the mining industry itself, has been nonchalant about dealing with anti-mining issues and propaganda. It merrily goes about its profitable business with not much regard to winning the hearts and minds not only of its stakeholders but the bigger audience as well. In the face of a growing anti-mining sentiment, the industry allows this avalanche of disinformation to sway public sentiments without helping much to clarify and explain. Their reactions, if not too late, are laid back. They are not rising up to the occasion. I begin to suspect that perhaps some of those in the mining industry, especially the foreigners, get cold feet because they just prefer to lie low and avoid being “political”. They may lose by default!

Here is another irony. On the ground, while some mining companies enjoy the support and goodwill of the host communities, people who are not the locals are the loudest in raising their hackles against these operations. How sad because the “outsiders” are the more noisy and the more vociferous ones. And the public wrongly thinks they espouse the preponderant view. Some politicians do not know any better. They jump into the bandwagon to appear publicly as environmentalists, or conservationists without much of serious study. It’s the easiest way out. (But having been a politician myself before , “that is par for the course” , to use an old cliché.)

INITIAL FEEDBACKS – I am saddened to know that unlike in the past, mining today appears to be no longer considered one of the principal drivers of the economy. Some members of the Aquino cabinet were even reported as scoffing at the low contribution of mining to the national economy. They profess ignorance of the big positive impact a mining company brings to a remote host municipality and its environs. If they look only at the amount of excise tax being paid, (2%) then they can say it’s pitifully low, that even if they close down mining in the country, it will not matter much because it is an insignificant factor in the economic profile. Sorry, but those facts do not give a complete picture. They fail to reckon the totality of mining’s contribution. It’s not only taxes. We must factor in the government’s share as agreed in the Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA), the salaries and wages paid to the thousands employed, the income taxes paid, the roads and infrastructure built and maintained for the host communities, the required social and development projects (schools, scholarships, livelihood programs, etc); the royalty funds turned over to the host indigenous peoples (lumads); the security-related expenses,(which mining companies have to bear by necessity, given that government cannot physically protect everyone), the extent of business and economic activities it generates specially in the locality, the required rehabilitation fund and the volume of money infused into the local economy on the various operational activities. And so on and so forth.

I’m sure I missed some points but the mining industry must put these numbers together accurately and clearly. And fast! If you total it, it’s definitely not peanuts to scoff at. The industry should have done this arithmetic a long time ago. I am surprised. Even the business sector is tentative in what action to take when the whole business community, not only the mining industry is at a crossroad. Wake up boys and girls!

WINDFALL –If the government makes the right moves, the reported measly contribution so far of the mining industry to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) can rise dramatically and perk up the economy. It can serve as a windfall – the button just waiting to be pushed. For instance, the US$5.9 billion direct investment of Saguittarius Mining Inc. in its proposed Tampakan project can perk up Mindanao’s GDP several notches higher. Instead of government making light of mining’s impact, it should instead view it as an opportunity and a readily available tool, just waiting to be tapped, to spurt the regional and national economy . It’s badly needed, especially nowadays, when the economic trend is on a downward trajectory.

PROPOSALS –There are proposals for a review of the tax holidays to mining. Or an increase of the 2% excise tax to 5%. There’s this proposal that will factor in the so-called total economic value formula, whatever that means. Then there’s the complaint of local government units about the low and slow flow of benefits from mining companies that they host. Well and good. Whatever they are, it’s always desirable for government and the people to have a bigger piece of the action. But the bottom line is to retain investors’ interest and not drive them away.

SMALL SCALE –Rationalizing the small scale mining industry is also a must. Small scale mining should not (and CANNOT) be totally stopped but must be brought within the ambit of law and regulations. As we have seen, mostly, they are the harbingers of many problems, environmental or otherwise. (I cannot understand why anti-mining voices are focused at big scale mining and not at the real culprits.) Despite past efforts, government failed to follow through on this. The whip must be cracked to totally stop the environmental harm and damage. So sorry to say: during our time, efforts were exerted but did not fully succeed.

WAY FORWARD –My unsolicited advice is for the national government, as owners of all minerals to consolidate control over these resources, rationalize the system so that government, the communities and all stakeholders get their due and equitable share, punish and weed out the bad guys and allow to operate only responsible and compliant mining companies which have good track records and capable of using world-class best practices and technology in the business. And use mining as one of the principal drivers of improving – not destroying or harming— the well being of our people. Killing the industry is not the answer, folks! It’s like killing the hen that lays the golden egg just because it shits everywhere when all you have to do is clean it up!

In the midst of these uncertainties, only President Aquino can finally put clarity to all these with the awaited policies to be announced soon. Also, he must put to rest the “floating” status of DENR Secretary Ramon Paje. Competent and well meaning, he is neither here nor there because his non-confirmation in the Commission on Appointments is still a “sword of Damocles” hanging over his head. The President must also put to rest the growing, but perhaps speculative, fears of alleged policy-capture by some “anti-mining” elements who now walk the corridors of power. The mining industry is so vital that we cannot just relegate it to the dustbin. Or leave its fate in the hands of those who want to kill it.

Will President Aquino do the right thing? Let’s watch and see.

Paje formally asked to reconsider SMI ECC junking

Mark Williams, SMI general manager and David Pearce, executive director of Australia’s Center for International Economics

SAGITTARIUS Mines Inc. (SMI), proponent of the $5.9-billion Tampakan copper-gold project, has formally asked Environment Secretary Ramon Paje to reconsider his decision denying the firm’s application for environmental clearance certificate (ECC).

Mark Williams, SMI general manager, said the motion for reconsideration was submitted to the DENR late last month and incorporated the individual manifesto of support from the host municipalities of the country’s largest mining venture.

Williams said their argument is that the ECC should be the forerunner to any local government ordinance on mining projects and will the source of information for the municipalities and provinces on what their actions would be. This means that the DENR cannot use the South Cotabato ordinance banning open pit mining to reject SMI’s application for ECC.

John B. Arnaldo SMI corporate communications manager, said the DENR’s action was contrary to President Aquino’s policy pronouncements that national laws cannot be overturned by local government ordinances.

“By using the local ordinance as reason for the denial is not consistent with the position consistently stated by the administration. It is the national law that should prevail over the local law,” Arnaldo said.

Williams said they believe the Mining Act of 1995 has been challenged before and was already upheld by the Supreme Court, so what they need now is for the government to be consistent with its policies.

“The policies should be consistent to create investor confidence, the contract needs to be honored, and there needs to be clarity between local and national laws,” Williams said.

He refused to give specific comments on the reported draft executive order that would allegedly make life harder for mining companies to operate in the country. “We have yet to formally receive a copy of the draft EO and we believe that there are more than one version of the draft so it is not right to give specific comments.”

Williams said the company remains positive that despite the setbacks that it suffered at the local government and national government levels, the project will still proceed.

He said when all the necessary approvals have been secured, it will take the company about three-and-a-half years to finish the construction phase and proceed to the mineral production.

SMI, he said, has spent about $360 of the $5.9-billion estimated total project cost million so far.

David Pearce, executive director of Australia’s Center for International Economics, said at a forum at the University of Asia and the Pacific on Wednesday that the Tampakan project should be allowed to continue due to its social and economic impacts.

For instance, Pearce said the project is expected to contribute 1 percent to the national GDP and an average of 10 percent to Mindanao’s GDP.

“I don’t know any other project in the world that can generate such impact,” he said.

Aquino to protect, address woes of mining industry

    The administration of President Benigno Aquino III is bent on protecting mining investments and on fully addressing the issues confronting the Philippine minerals industry, said Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Ramon JP Paje Jr.
Paje’s statement on the presidential position on mining should reverberate loudly on policy makers of the South Cotabato provincial government, whose Board has passed the Environmental Code.
The code which bans open-pit mining poses a threat to the operation in the province of the US$5.9 billion Tampakan Gold and Copper Project of Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI).
Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa, Jr., on the other hand, assured that the Aquino administration recognizes the value and potential of the mining industry as a main contributor to the Philippine economy.
Paje and Ochoa expounded on President Aquino’s strong support for mining in their speeches at the  Mining Philippines 2011 Conference and Exhibition held in Manila middle of September.

IN HONOLULU in November,  President Aquino hinted at amending Philippine mining laws if only to ensure that mining companies – whether local or foreign – would help protect the environment.

In a panel discussion with chief executive officers arranged by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, he noted that there also has to be some deterrent effect on firms that would violate environmental laws.

“Increasing fines for instance, versus the profit they make. The fine is such a pittance. I think in one instance, about a thousand dollars only and then they can have hundred of millions in terms of their exports. So it really is inconsequential,” he said.

The issue was raised after Richard Adkerson, president and CEO of Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold Inc., expressed interest in mining in the Philippines, like the “exploration project” they have, but was concerned about government policy and security.

This prompted moderator Diane Brady, senior editor of Bloomberg, to ask, how would Aquino want to “tighten the rules” on companies that have mining industries, whose investments run in the millions of US dollars.

“We are in a period of having to, shall we say, tightening the rules. You know there’s one area – not their area – where, you take an area of shot, there seems to be a beach on the coastline,” Aquino explained.

“A closer shot will reveal that it’s run out from this open pit mining that some of the unscrupulous mining entities did not deem necessary to contain,” he said.

“There has to be stability, there has to be a rule of law, there has to be security for our people. These are long-term investments and they just cannot be made without that kind of assurances,” Adkerson remarked.

“There has to be a fair deal for the government, there has to be a protection of the environment; we have to provide for sustainable development in the area that we operate,” he stressed.  

Amid rebel attacks against mining firms in Mindanao, Aquino said these firms have decided to stay.

“I met with the officers of Sumitomo group, and they assured us that they have no intentions of pulling out,” he earlier told officers and members of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines at Mandarin Oriental hotel in Makati City.

“So if that main victim of this whole issue has not indicated a lack of interest or lessening of interest, then perhaps I don’t foresee any other foreign investors undertaking the same,” Aquino said.

The only thing they requested was additional security which the government would provide, through the deployment of civilian armed forces geographical units who would all be under the supervision of both the military and police in their assigned areas.

Mining policy

Meanwhile, four members of the President’s cabinet have been tasked to craft the Philippines’ mining policy aimed at preserving the country’s natural resources and making use of minerals without sacrificing the environment.

Aquino said he tasked Environment Secretary Ramon Paje, presidential advisers Neric Acosta and Elisea Gozun and Climate Change Commission head Mary Ann Lucille Sering to come up with a comprehensive mining policy.

Aquino said he prefers allowing large-scale mining firms to operate rather than small ones that only tend to contribute to the pollution of the environment because they don’t have the means and capability to protect the country’s resources.

Small mining firms, he said, are also harder to regulate.

 Panel discussion

The President had a “panel discussion” with chief executive officers of the world’s top companies, and have a dinner with fellow leaders of the 19th APEC Leaders.

Aquino at Sheraton Waikiki met with officials of JP Morgan, China National Cereals Oils and Foodstuffs Corp. and Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold Inc., among others.

Among the invited guests are CEOs from Hawaiian Airlines Inc., Kia Motors America and Kia Motors Manufacturing in Georgia, IM Systems Group Inc., Coldwell Banker Pacific, Principal Financial Group, Rinnai Corp., Formosa Plastics Group and the Raffo Group.

Aquino to protect, address woes of mining industry

ECONOMIC SPARKPLUG. Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa, Jr., assuring that the Aquino administration recognizes the value and potential of the mining industry as a main contributor to thePhilippine economy, during the Mining Philippines 2011 Conference and Exhibition.

The administration of President Benigno Aquino III is bent on protecting mining investments and on fully addressing the issues confronting the Philippine minerals industry, said Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Ramon JP Paje Jr.
Paje’s statement on the presidential position on mining should reverberate loudly on policy makers of the South Cotabato provincial government, whose Board has passed the Environmental Code.
The code which bans open-pit mining poses a threat to the operation in the province of the US$5.9 billion Tampakan Gold and Copper Project of Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI).
Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa, Jr., on the other hand, assured that the Aquino administration recognizes the value and potential of the mining industry as a main contributor to the Philippine economy.
Paje and Ochoa expounded on President Aquino’s strong support for mining in their speeches at the  Mining Philippines 2011 Conference and Exhibition held in Manila middle of September.
But even as the Philippine mining is facing threats from several fronts—communist insurgents, multiple taxation, environmentalists, the Catholic Church–the industry is remains upbeat, said Benjamin Philip G. Romualdez, president of the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, which hosted the event.
The Philippine minerals development industry has plenty of reasons to be upbeat these days. One reason is the unparalleled increase in metal prices in the international market, which augurs well not just for the industry, but more importantly, for our country.   With the Aquino administration’s focus on attracting new investments to reduce poverty, to create more employment, and to increase revenues, we need not look far to find the solutions to our pressing economic concerns.  The metal prices are drawing more investors, both local and foreign, to invest in mining in the Philippines, which is the fifth most mineralized country in the world, said Romuladez in his speech at the conference that gathered government policy makers, investors and ptential investors in mining. ROGER M. BALANZA




COLUMN: Can responsible mining be real?

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            In our part of Mindanao today, multi-national mining corporations are in the limelight. Investors are pouring in millions of dollars in exploration works or starting to dig up for precious minerals. Despite trumpeting economic boom that could eventually be derived from mining, the MNCs are facing hurdles from environmentalist groups, the Church and tribal communities for the looming pollution mining could bring to communities.

            This situation is true in South Cotabato where the Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) is exploring copper and gold in thousands of hectares that straddles three provinces including Davao del Sur in the Davao Region.

SMI is still to convince the oppositors about modern mining methods being not a threat to environment and people. But as experienced in mining areas hereabouts,  corporate social responsibility often is good only at the initial stage before bulldozers ravaged forests; promised medical missions end as soon as corporate greed takes over; employment in areas where MNCs talk of economic boom from mining sometimes are rare as a dodo. Meanwhile, tribals bribed to sell ancestral domain lose their culture and tradition as hapless victims of developmental aggression.

SMI is the biggest investment ever in our part of Mindanao. It tries to dispel doomsday prognostications of what would happen to Central Mindanao in future. Sure it is doing its best to prove it is sincere. Certainly, economic boom is a reality when it starts digging for gold and copper—the biggest deposit in Asia—but we hope its heart is in the right place.

The key word is RESPONSIBLE MINING, which should bring us to the speech of Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Ramon J.P. Paje before the ASIA MINING CONGRESS 2011 held recently in Singapore.

Paje, if he were the tourism officer, could be a top salesman. He prefaced his speech with what is good in the Philippines: an archipelago of 7,107 islands, home to 94 million Filipinos; lush rainforests and extensive coastlines that are habitats to a   diverse range of flora and fauna; one of the world’s 18 most biologically mega-diverse countries; with around 1,100 species of land vertebrates, including over 100 mammalian species and 170 bird species not thought to exist elsewhere;rich seas encompassing some 2.2 million square kilometers.

And then his audience being potential investors, he went for the guttural: the Philippines is very rich in economic mineral deposits—gold, copper, nickel, iron, chromite— you name it, we have it. For the record, the Philippines is the 3rd biggest producer of nickel ore, behind Russia and Indonesia, vaulting over Australia and Canada, according to Paje.

          He has a message though to investors: Sustainable development principles are enshrined in the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.

“We are banking on responsible mining, to bring about national growth in a manner that safeguards the environment and protects the rights of affected communities, including the indigenous peoples.”

          He warned investors that Responsible Mining is an advocacy now enshrined in vigilant communities where investors are planning ventures.

The Philippine mining industry has been the subject of intense scrutiny by major sectors of the Philippine society, such as local government units, civil society organizations and religious organizations, Paje told his audience.

          And how is the state of mining in the Philippines?

The Philippines has 22 large-scale operating mines, with aggregate total investments of US$3.835 billion at present and projected to reach US$18 billion by 2016.

Being from this part of Mindanao, we should take note of the fact that among huge investments mentioned by Paje is the $5.9 billion Tampakan Copper Project of SMI.

If SMI says it would practice responsible mining, how far can DENR go to ensure it toes the line? SMI, like the rest, would be under watch.

We attribute to past and current experiences the negative impacts of mining on the environment and host communities.   The industry continues to labor under the stigma of its “sins of the past.”  This is aggravated by indiscriminate mining practices, and the lack of a unified information campaign to address misconceptions about mining, according to Paje.

He adds that under the administration of President Aquino lll, the government is bent on fully addressing the issues confronting the Philippine mining industry.

Alongside various reforms that will level the playing field, remove graft and corruption and improve environmental compliance, the Philippine government shall protect mining investments and remove all interferences to mining projects.

At this point of Paje’s speech, SMI people should celebrate.

Paje said the government is committed to pursue the SMI Tampakan Project and has resolved that all attendant issues prior to its implementation, even if it decides to advance its timetable from 2016 to 2013, shall be properly addressed and that it is seriously encouraging SMI to continue the project.

The Philippine government continues to bank on mineral resources development as a vehicle for economic growth.  There will definitely be challenges along the way.  But for as long as democracy remains dynamic, we will always see the Philippines taking a critical role in promoting responsible mining as a measure of making this part of the world a better place to live in and invest in, said Paje.

Okay, okay, we hear you Mr. Paez. Now, let us hear it from SMI and how sincere it is on responsible mining and its corporate social responsibility.