The Irresponsibility of Responsible Mining

Elpidio V. Peria
29 June 2016


from :

The elevation by President-incoming Digong Duterte of known anti-mining advocate Gina Lopez to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has sent social media abuzz about what is responsible mining, sustainable mining or what is not destructive mining. Recalling press reports that what President Digong is so adamantly against is mining that is “destructive” of or was it to, the environment, it is actually fairly easy for mining advocates to say that what they are doing is not “destructive”, thus they can easily explain to the President that they are not what the President should be railing against.

But really, what is responsible mining? A cursory look at Wikipedia, which is where most people online go to these days to find out initially what a thing is all about, we get the following : “refers to advocacy to reform mining activity, as well a marketing strategy used by mining companies to promote their operations as environmentally or socially sound. Goals may vary by group.”

So, what we get is that it is an advocacy as well as a marketing strategy, but the more telling thing about it is that it varies with each group that makes it their goal, or perhaps we can say, it is what any mining company or industry association say it is, and it has become, in the Philippines and in other countries rich in minerals, like a mantra which, in a way amounts to an absolution of all that is bad against mining, and please, let’s not get started about the common non-sequitur fallacious talking point of pro-mining advocates where they call anti-mining adherents (I don’t have to use the word advocate, often, don’t I?) hypocrites since these adherents are wearing wristwatches, jewelry, eye-glasses, etc.

Let’s see if the term “responsible mining” is indeed responsible, meaning, can we hold those who believe in its magical properties and benefits into account, let’s test it if those who advocate about can really be bound by it, ok?

But where do we start? Is there something, like a document, binding at that, to which we can say that these advocates of responsible mining will follow to the letter, so that indeed we will believe them?

Internationally, there’s this Framework on Responsible Mining that was written by Marta Miranda, David Chambers and Catherine Coumans back in 2005 but looking at the checklist of questions to which they will subject the adherents of responsible mining, actually it is tempting to ask if the mining industry in the Philippines will really follow it, it must be doubted if such a framework can be implemented assiduously, if at all, because there’s too many of them, and by the way, the title of that 155-page document says it is a guide for evolving standards, thus, there is nothing fixed on what that framework can demand from those who wish to adhere to it.

Let’s just go to our own legal and policy framework here in the Philippines, and back in 2012, we have actually Executive Order 79 issued by President Noynoy Aquino in his early heady days which says as its title “INSTITUTIONALIZING AND IMPLEMENTING REFORMS IN THE PHILIPPINE MINING SECTOR PROVIDING POLICIES AND GUIDELINES TO ENSURE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AND RESPONSIBLE MINING IN THE UTILIZATION OF MINERAL RESOURCES”, and finally, out of that kilometric title of 26 words, our quarry “responsible mining” makes its appearance.

Looking at the content of the Executive Order which we usually refer to as an EO, nowhere is there explained or defined in the EO what “responsible mining” is, though there is a whereas clause, which mentions in capital letters at that, “Responsible Mining Policies”, but looking closely at the various provisions of the EO if these policies are actually clearly spelled out, the EO does not further provide that it is so.

But, perhaps the mining advocates will say, but the contents of the EO itself is what’s responsible mining is all about, and if that is so, can we, those who are not thoroughly immersed in the pros and cons of mining, take their word for it?

Actually that is a difficult state of affairs to be in, because then, we don’t really know what these responsible mining advocates are talking about. In fact, there is one powerpoint that popped up in the search term “responsible mining” and it is by the DENR itself and it talks about, what else, responsible mining, and it refers to Executive Order No. 270, during the time of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, but when one looks up again the text of this EO, again, this responsible mining thing is something that is actually not spelled out clearly, contrary to what that powerpoint may be talking about.

If we are dead serious, let’s look again at Republic Act 7942, or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, again, if we want to test the sincerity of pro-mining advocates to abide by something, at least it should be there, so that we can hold them legally accountable for it. Again, you readers may do it, but, lo and behold, you can not find the words “responsible mining” in that law, to which the pro-mining advocates swear they will abide by.

We can go on and on and see that there are many meanings to those two words, every group that can post to the web have already done so. What is clear is that those who advocate for responsible mining cannot be really held into account for what they are claiming and that ultimately, is the height of irresponsibility of the concept, since there is nothing binding in Philippine law, to which we can scrutinize and test the concept and see whether it is being followed. What is worse, the industry can really talk about the multi-facetedness of the concept, like a diamond, but if that happens then they cannot be held into account. In fact it becomes apparent and perhaps it is already the understanding in the industry, that in fact, responsible mining, is, going back to our earlier point, what the mining industry says it is, they cannot be held responsible, because it is all up to them. That is not only irresponsibility, that’s hypocrisy, if not downright an illegality, though for the latter we cannot do it since there is no law mandating such thing as being illegal. See, that’s how beautiful the concept is, if you take that last point, to the mining advocates.

I’ll take “responsible parenthood” seriously anytime, since in the RH law or Republic Act 10354, it is at least defined there, in sec. 4(v).


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6 Responses to The Irresponsibility of Responsible Mining

  1. Jes says:

    Very timely and relevant. I quickly read through the blog and it basically says there’s no clear definition of what responsible mining is.

    Since in the words of Duterte responsible mining is akin to how the Australians and Canadians do it, it might be helpful to also blog about exactly how do the Australians and Canadians go about mining “responsibly”?

    Just a suggestion. More power!

    • Thank you Jes for the suggestion, am sure our friends in the advocacy groups will do that, but that underlines the point of the post, that, since the concept is anything that the mining says it is, like, what they do in Australia and Canada, we cannot really compel them to follow that since there is no law in the Philippines, even that EO on mining by Pnoy or the Mining Act of 1995, that puts specifics on what that thing is. Dunno if the alternative minerals bill have that. If the industry abides to clarify what they mean about it and will let themselves be held accountable for not following it, then the concept is fine. Not now. If they say it’s already in the contract, it’s still not feasible as basically the parties are not really equal in those circumstances.cheers!

      • Jes says:

        .,,or maybe on of Gina’s early acts is to draft an updated EO defining clearly what responsible mining is and then get Duterte to sign it?

      • that can be one way to do it, but, am not optimistic about it; the term is an internationally-approved mantra, once it gets defined in national law, which is not the goal of those who coined the term, am not sure the industry will agree to it. Of course it’s a simple thing to say that term equals strict compliance with environmental laws and related regulations. Our advocate friends would surely have various approaches to deal with this. Another way is to strengthen our rules on precautionary principle such that if an environmentally-destructive activity, from mining, to aerial spraying in banana plantations, to GMOs, etc, shows clear damage that cannot be immediately remedied, then it should not go forward. We’ll make that a subject of a later post, if that idea gets traction. But it’s complicated and difficult to implement, requires a lot of baseline data on various indicators, something which we don’t have, be it at the national or local level.

  2. Kulas says:

    There is this thing called multi partite monitoring team. It’s in the mining act I think. Not very knowledgable with specifics but it’s there. The team is composed of LGU, IPs, and I think even a representative from ENRO and the church and they are supposed to be the ones to monitor if the mining activities of a mining company adheres to our laws. I think this still boils down to implementation. We have laws but we still have to learn how to implement them. IMHO.

    • Thank you Kulas for the comment, indeed, you are right, that’s actually one way to police the way the ECC grantees follow through on the requirements of their environmental compliance certificate but perhaps there’s a need to strengthen how that team is not co-opted by the project proponent since usually, in my experience sitting in as a civil society rep in one of those teams here in Mindanao, as the proponent pays for the seminars, workshops, lakbay-aral of these teams, eventually the members of the team become close friends, it was difficult for us to keep on consistently raising issues as we turned out to be spoilers but we continued in that mode, but looking at it now, we were ineffective in that setting. Perhaps that MMT (multipartite monitoring team) has to be strengthened.

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