Published on Business Mirror on August 19, 2016 (link here)
With a new and strong-willed leader at its helm, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) continues to examine the operations of all violators of the country’s mining and environmental laws. Upon taking office, Secretary Regina Paz L. Lopez cast a very wide net by ordering an extensive audit of all mines in the country to determine their compliance to government’s responsible-mining policies. As of this writing, the crackdown on irresponsible mining has resulted in the suspension of eight mining firms due to an array of environmental-law violations. The nationwide mining audit is expected to wrap up within the month, but there’s no slowing down in the issuance of suspensions.
The fight for clean air, potable water and the protection of the environment is, indeed, a noble cause, worthy of such intense passion and commitment exemplified by the new DENR leadership. However, one cannot simply brush aside the significant contribution and potential of the mining sector in industrializing the Philippines, just because of a few bad eggs. Let’s not fall for the false dichotomy between mining and the environment: Laying down the facts, mining plays an important role in economic development, as it creates the opportunity for a country to supply raw materials to its manufacturing sector using its own natural resources. Mining activities also generate employment for communities and create economic activity in remote areas, which would, otherwise, have little or no economic activity at all. On the other hand, mining has unwanted impacts, such as deforestation, soil erosion, water pollution, to name a few, as it alters the environmental landscape of an area. However, the mining sector is not oblivious to the environmental consequence of its operations. Rather, responsible players in the industry are leading the way through their efforts to limit their environmental footprint, having received international recognition for their environmentally sustainable operations.
One month ago, the Chamber of Mines released its list of ISO 14001 Certification-Environmental Management Systems compliant mining firms answering the government’s challenge for responsible mining. The ISO 14001 is a global certification that assures a mining firm’s adherence to the “highest, most acceptable level of efficiency in terms of extracting minerals, while, at the same time, ensuring that the environment is not compromised.” In addition to the sector’s concerted effort for efficient and responsible mining, mining firms are key drivers of social development in remote areas as they build communities and develop infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, hospitals and schools, complementing the government’s efforts. There are numerous examples of mining communities where the mined-out areas are undergoing rehabilitation through tree planting and community development, paid for by the mining firms.
Responsible mining is the only way to go as it allows the nation to benefit from a thriving mining industry. While the actions of the DENR to weed out irresponsible miners should be supported, there must also be equal recognition and support for firms that advocate and epitomize responsible mining in our country.