Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje said the government is exploring avenues to address issues confronting the mining industry in the country, even as he stressed that various reforms were already being implemented to level the playing field, fight graft and corruption and improve environmental compliance by mining projects.
“We recognized that further reforms are needed,” Paje told the participants to the Asia Mining Congress 2011 held recently in Singapore, assuring them that the “government is bent on fully addressing the issues confronting the Philippine mining industry.”

Among the mining reforms being pursued by the government, Paje said, include the protection of mining investment, full implementation of the “use it, lose it” policy, upgrading of environmental standards, shift to value-adding activities, and strengthening of public-private partnership.

According to Paje, there is now an on-going effort to harmonize national and local policies affecting mining toward a more-friendly regime for the mining industry. He cited the case of the Tampakan mining project, which the government has committed to pursue and to resolve all attendant issues prior to its implementation in 2016.

At the same time, Paje enlightened the participants composed mostly of representatives of mining companies of the on-going cleansing of non-moving and non-performing mining contracts in all regional offices of the MGB. “This is based on the ‘use it or lose it’ policy that we have adopted recently to purge speculators and eliminate opportunities for graft and corruption,” he said.

But as the Philippine government works to improve the investment climate in mining, Paje underscored the upgrading as well of the environmental standards in the industry. “Environmental standards, which ensure the mitigation of the impacts of mining, are being defined clearly and applied in all mining operations, nationwide,” he said.

According to him, the environmental track record of mining contractors has become a critical consideration and that only those who are able to strictly comply with environmental management requirements of the Philippine mining law shall be granted with mining rights.

Further, Paje said the government plans to limit the direct shipping of certain ores to encourage the development of downstream industries for value adding. “This way,” he said, “we will be able to extract more benefits from the utilization of our mineral resources to the advantage of local governments and communities.” Through the Philippine Mining Development Corporation (PMDC), Paje said the government intends to strengthen the public-private partnership not only in the development of government assets and in pursuing exploration activities, but also in the conduct of a sustained information, education and communication program to enhance understanding of communities and improve the acceptability of mining projects.

The DENR chief acknowledged the continuing opposition of some sectors of the Philippine society against the mining industry, which he attributed to past and current experiences on the negative impacts of mining on the environment and host communities. “The industry continues to labor under the stigma of its ‘sins of the past’, which is aggravated by indiscriminate mining practices and the lack of a unified information campaign to address misconceptions about mining,” Paje said.

Relative to President Aquino’s efforts to fight graft and corruption, Paje assured the mining executives to expect full transparency in government transactions. According to him, he has already directed the MGB to upload in its website all relevant mining information, including status of tenements, bidding guidelines and results, among others.

Paje concluded his presentation by reiterating the President’s declaration in his inaugural speech that the Philippines “will be a predictable and consistent place for investment.”