Monday, August 14, 2006

Mining firms in Palawan unite for PR blitz

By Eliseo Valendez

AS ENVIRONMENTALISTS stood firm on their position that responsible mining is merely an abstract concept, six mining firms in Palawan formed an umbrella organization and asked the public to give them a chance to put their theory into practice.

“Give mining companies a chance to conduct responsible mining,” Engr. Rufo Cabanlig, president of the Kabuhayan, Kaunlaran, Kalikasan, Inc. (KKK) told local media in a mining forum last July 29.

The newly formed group brings together Atlas Mining Corp., Berong Nickel Mining Corp., Macro Asia, Platinum Group Metals Corp. (PGMC), Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Company (RTNMC), and Coral Bay Nickel Corp. (CBNC).

However, Beth Maclang of the Palawan NGO Network, Inc. (PNNI), told Bandillo: “Sa concept, maganda talaga ang responsible mining. Pero nasa papel pa rin iyan hanggang sa ngayon.”

Cabanlig admitted, “mining companies made mistakes in the past, and that we are trying to correct.”

He promised to “put pressure dun sa mga member companies” to practice responsible mining operation, and said the KKK could blacklist violators of environmental laws.

Tapping the media this time, the forum is the fifth of a series organized by the KKK. The same forum has been held in the towns of Narra, Quezon and Brooke’s Point.

Maclang said, “So far, wala pang naipapakita na good example ng mining sa Palawan, and even in the Philippines.” She challenged the companies to “prove true the responsible mining that they are talking about,” adding that, “The operational mining firms in the province have bad track records.”

She cited the PGMC’s massive cutting of trees recently, which caused siltation in 23 farm lots in Española.

“Records would show that there is no responsible mining done in the province,” Maclang said.

P72-million for Bataraza

KKK said that RTN and CBNC have funded livelihood projects and infrastructure projects, and provided medical and educational programs in Bataraza.

But NGOs have questioned the contribution of the mining firms in Bataraza, saying the town remains one of the poorest municipalities in the province based on the 2005 poverty mapping done by the Social Welfare Department.

Cabanlig said Bataraza will be the richest town in the province when it starts receiving P72 million annually from the CBNC starting 2008.

The main purpose of the series of forums is to provide “enlightenment” to the public and help them make “informed decisions,” Cabanlig said.

Through the Mining Act of 1995, KKK gave assurances that companies would comply with the law and promised not to harm the environment.

Engr. Albert Rama said the people of Palawan suffer from poverty while the natural resources remain intact. “Hindi ba natin dapat galawin ang likas yaman?” he said.

Cabanlig said Southern Palawan is part of the ‘Sunda plate’ which is rich in mineral resources such as nickel, chromite, and manganese.

The nickel deposits found in Berong, Quezon as well as in Rio Tuba, Bataraza and Brooke’s Point are world-class, he said.

Cabanlig cited Baguio City as “the best example of sustainable mineral development started as a mining community.”

But Maclang belied that mining firms provided development in the mining areas in Benguet.

She said she attended the national IP (indigenous peoples) conference on mining last March 12-15 in Baguio City and heard complaints from NGOs and indigenous groups in the area.

There were abandoned sites in Benguet province, which suffered environmental destruction and displacement of the IPs, she said.

Contrary to the KKK reports, Maclang said “the host communities experienced the worst from mining” and “mahirap pa rin ang mga tao sa Benguet.”

She said the forum aims to misinform the people so they will believe the promises of mining firms.

Restoring the Environment

Engr. Gabriel Pamintuan Jr. cited the Lepanto Consolidated mining company, Philex Mining Corp. in Benguet, and the Taganito mining in Surigao Del Norte, and Philex MC in Bulawan for their “best practices.”

He said these companies restored the environment where they had their operations and provided various benefits to the host communities.

“I am not sure that a mining company would enter into areas where they are not accepted,” he said.

Viable mining projects, Pamintuan said, could be distinguished for certain characteristics such as “profitable, safe, continuous or sustainable, environment friendly and socially equitable.”

Pamintuan said the potential of the Philippine mining industry faces challenges in terms of the “scale of operations, gaining acceptability, facing issues, brain-drain, and economic opportunities.”

He said the Philippines needs to “take advantage” of the mining boom, with the price of metals in the international market at high levels and foreign investors entering the country.

The mining industry makes “temporary use of land” and provides economic benefits through employment, livelihood, and taxes.

But geologic risks as well as financial risks, physical risks and environmental risks are always present.

Cabanlig said mining firms spend about P100 to P400 million in explorations alone.

“We’d rather comply with all the requirements rather than be stopped from the operations,” he said.

It is the firms’ responsibility to “put back (the environment), as much as we can, to its former state,” he added.


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