Jude Thaddeus L. Bautista
Last Friday, the heated debate between the ABS CBN foundation Managing Dir. Regina Lopez and Philex Pres. Manny V. Pangilinan made for great and dramatic television, far more than the impeachment trial could ever hope to be. In my mind the issues of the environment, employment, the economy that are part and parcel of the debate is what the Senate and the whole Phil. Government should really be concerned with. The discussion was from the Conference on Mining’s Impact on the Phil. Economy and the Ecology.
Way before flipping on the remote to ANC, I always sided with environmental causes. But the advantage of a presentation from opposing sides and an open forum like this is to be able to compare facts and figures and be able to make a sound judgment. Often we make decisions not based on a long thought process, weighing pros and cons but mostly out of emotion or a narrow minded view of the issues.
And just listening to the presentations from both sides, Peter Wallace of Wallace Business Forum and MVP make very compelling arguments as to why we need mining here in the Philippines. Wallace is able to break down the numbers where we can understand how mining greatly affects the economy specifically the Tampacan project, “The economy grew 5 and a half percent over the last few years. Just Tampacan which Mr. Wicks is so critical of, if it comes into operation can add one whole percentage point to our GDP. We go from 5 and a half to 6 and a half.”
He goes into a very clear comparison of what will happen next, “We have 2 possible scenarios. Everything works mining gets going, government does its job, the opposition helps us to control it. And investors put real money in it. What happens? We have at least a hundred thousand more jobs. We have roads, schools, hospitals built that the government can’t afford to do and hasn’t done. We bring electricity and water to local communities. Our GDP grows 7 or 8% and we break the poverty trap because until we get over 7% we will remain in poverty.”
He also talks about the consequences clearly, “OR we can do the opposite, we can have a government that doesn’t do its job. We can have opposition to succeed in stopping mining and blocking us from doing it. What happens then? Everything is illegal. Jueteng still exists illegally. You can’t stop it. So in small scale there can be no control where people don’t act responsibly. And we do get all the pollution that Mr. Wicks is talking about. Today yes you’re right. In the past there was irresponsible mining by big miners, it’s not allowed anymore. And it doesn’t happen anymore. We don’t get the jobs. We have disastrous mining practices. And the economy runs at about 3 and a half percent instead of 7 or 8, a huge differential.”
MVP quoted a very eye opening study by a global consulting firm, “And in the coming decades according to McKinsey, ‘Up to 3 billion people and their spending power will be added to the global middle class. The world is indeed entering the era of sustained resource demand and high resource prices.’ MVP goes on to ask, “So the question for us Filipinos must be: ‘Does the Phil. have the capacity to supply some of the resources into the advantage of those prices for our people? Is it reasonable to stop developing our resources knowing the world and this country needs them?’”
It has long been established that the Philippines has the mineral resources being the top five in untapped reserves for both gold and copper. Pangilinan explains why we should take advantage of them, “If we choose not to participate in the global supply chain for minerals either by outright ban or moratorium our need for mining products will not stop. Our only recourse would be to import. We then pay for the foreign import’s cost of production and profit and the cost to protecting it’s own environment. This is not common sense. Why should we pay for the job we ought to be doing?” He concedes that there should be more regulation in the mining industry. And if countries like Australia, South Africa, Canada, Sweden and even Indonesia can have responsible mining why not us?
First of all, I am grateful and appreciative of all the environmental causes that Gina Lopez has spear headed. The most visible to me is her rehabilitation of the tributary of the Pasig River in Paco, Manila. But based on facts and their presentations, it becomes clear that Lopez seems misguided and is driven by sentiment rather than clear headed thinking as far as the mining issue is concerned. I was hoping that Dr. Clive Montgomery Wicks consultant to the Working Group Mining in the Phil would be able to provide sound facts as to why there should be no mining. Instead he made generalizations that hurt their cause rather than support it.
He mentioned 2 specific large-scale mining projects in his presentation as unsafe or has the potential to harm the environment. And assuming it is true, from his analysis of those 2 projects he makes a large leap. Dr. Wicks made the sweeping statement that there is NO “responsible” mining operation in the Phil. How can Dr. Wicks make that statement if he hasn’t seen ALL the big mining operations in the country which is a total of 31? Its like saying ALL Filipinos are poor. Statistically 40% is considered to be living below the poverty line. But as a scientist you can’t make a sweeping and generalized statement that ALL Filipinos are poor.
There are 29 other mining projects, which he has not studied and yet deemed them all as “irresponsible.” This is basically the same battle cry that Lopez is making. PDI article “More interesting than impeachment trial”, quoted her as saying, “whether large or small scale mining is grossly irresponsible.” Peter Wallace said in response to the dangers in Tampacan project, “I don’t believe that an Australian major company would take the kind of risks that Mr. Wicks is talking about. They have a reputation worldwide. I am very surprised to hear what he had to say.”
WHO IS Peter Wallace?
Apart from studying and analyzing their statements it’s also very important to know the people making them. In the beginning of his presentation he reports that his own daughter Nikki has grown up to become an environmentalist. He did not elaborate on his own love for nature. He is an avid yachtsman and is an active outdoorsman as well.
He has been living in the Philippines for more than 30 years and has been an economic advisor to Pres. Fidel V. Ramos and a number of multinational companies who operate in the Phil. Wallace has a personal stake in our country, he’s not a white man who’d go around the country says what he thinks and then leaves. He mentioned the experience of his own wife in the 1970s who studied in St Therese in Baguio and the Philex bus that would pick up students just so they could attend school.
Mining FOR the environment
Given the facts that mining is an economic opportunity that our country cannot do without, the next and real challenge is how do we make it safe? Both sides are in agreement that the DENR is filled with contradictions having the Mining and Geosciences Bureau under it. Wicks said, “Problem with DENR nowhere in the world do we see the same functions in the same department. They have to protect the environment and they have to promote mining oil, gas and logging programs. We don’t know any other country in the world that does this.”
Fixing this internal contradiction should be one of the highest priorities of government in order to ensure that mining in both large and small scale will be safe for people and the environment. It’s no longer a question of should there be mining but how do we have mining to work FOR the environment and the people?