Despite having some of the biggest mineral reserves in the world - including gold, copper, manganese and iron- mining has long been a hot and -at times- controversial topic in the Philippines. A strong anti-mining movement led by the influential Catholic Church, in addition to poor infrastructure and security concerns, have at times kept investors away, whilst the recent review of mining legislation leading to the government moratorium on mining has merely served to add more fuel to the debate. In fact, on a global level, given the growing levels of resource nationalism prevalent today, whether in stable emerging markets like Indonesia and South Africa or in developed nations such as Australia and Canada, it appears that doors everywhere are harder, more expensive or just plain dangerous to open. Much of this is due to growing perceptions that the industry is taking away from local communities more than it is putting in. With this in mind, Voices That Matter got together with Mr. Benjamin Philip G. Romualdez, President of the Chamber of Mines in the Philippines, to discuss the role the mining industry can play in promoting the inclusive, sustainable growth demanded by the current Filipino government under President Aquino.
Whilst different pressure groups tend to paint the picture of a mining industry which destroys both the local environment and rural communities, the industry itself has perhaps been slow to stand up for itself. Mr. Romualdez feels it is unfortunate that the public is not able to see a more balanced version of the events, and he is particularly keen to promote the role the mining industry has been playing in supporting local communities: “Corporate Social Responsibility is just a new, modern term for something which mining companies have been putting in practice for years. In certain cases we provide goods and basic services to communities where the government failed to do so. We have built schools and infrastructure where there is none.” In terms of the environmental concerns, Mr. Romualdez admits that mistakes have been made in the past, but links this to the mistakes made all over the world in terms of environmental damage ever since the evolution of our increasingly industrialized society: “Some of these issues of environmental sciences have perhaps only come to the fore in the past 10-20 years, so perhaps for some older companies there was no real understanding, in the past, of these concerns. However, as mining companies became aware of them, they quickly started to address them.”
Strangely, at a time when growth from emerging economies has driven demand for natural resources to record levels, the relative importance of the mining sector to the Philippines’ overall economic growth appears to have been downplayed. However, to not recognize the significance of the role mining could play in the Philippines’ economic development would be a major mistake, according to Mr Romualdez: “There are different catalysts of growth in any economy, and mining is definitely one of those. It has also been a key factor in driving foreign investment in the country. It is also vital because it is the basic necessity of any economy. Everything that you enjoy in the world today either has been mined or grown. This is a key element which people fail to understand or grasp.”
Therefore, at a time when legislation regarding the mining industry is being debated by the powers that be, it is vitally important that the Philippines is able to present legislation which is both fair to the local population and also attractive to foreign investors. Mr Romualdez feels it is particularly important that the Philippines gets things right, as this may in turn set important precedents for the Filipino economy at large: “All forms of infrastructure development, energy or major manufacturing projects will experience similar concerns to those which we are currently facing, whether regarding the implementation of local/national planning, or community/ environmental concerns. Governance issues are at play in the Philippines. How these projects move forward will clearly indicate how other similarly placed projects will experience challenges.”c
Overall, Mr Romualdez is clearly confident that the newly revised legislation can be both “comprehensive” and “strict” enough to satisfy the justifiable interest of environmental and community-focused group, and yet reliable and fair enough to attract investors into the sector: “Given the highly mineralized nature of the Philippines, and this country’s highly-skilled and experienced labour force, I think investors will see that you have a wonderful business opportunity here in the Philippines.”
This will not only benefit foreign investors, but most importantly it will benefit the Filipinos themselves: “The biggest misconception is that we are preparing the mining industry for the benefit of others, and not for the Filipinos themselves. In fact, we are preparing it for the Filipinos; we are simply using the fact that there are other people interested in utilizing those minerals and benefiting from them. Our view is that we’re creating an atmosphere from which there is a win-win for all around. Filipinos can utilize the resources which belong to them to provide opportunities for opportunities for investors, or for those that have the skills set and would like to work within it.”
Through guidance from the Philippines’ Chamber of Mines, as well as the implementation of best practices from a number of the country’s most respected players in the mining sector, perhaps mining can play a major role in the Philippines’ quest for inclusive, sustainable growth after all.