Gov’t asked to tap mining as fund source vs COVID

SURIGAO del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers has urged government policymakers to reconsider, revisit and reinvigorate the local metallic and non-metallic mining operations and tap them as funding source for the gloomy post-coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) economic scenario being faced by the country.

Barbers, chairman of the House committee on dangerous drugs, said in the very near future, the country would start feeling the shockwaves of the humungous debts incurred by the government to combat the Covid-19 pandemic and implement various economic stimulus programs.

In a privilege speech delivered at the House plenary on Tuesday, the Surigao del Norte lawmaker said: “It is high time that we take a good look at our mines. This is the only answer to our economic woes. This is the only source of funding that could pay off all the debts incurred now and stimulate growth in our economy.”

As of September 2012, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) has estimated that the country has an estimated US$840 billion worth of untapped mineral wealth.

The Philippines is the fifth most mineral-rich country in the world for gold, nickel, copper, chromite, iron ore, lead, and zinc, many of them drawn from major deposits in the islands of Luzon and Mindanao.

"Those estimates by the MGB were made eight years ago,” he said. “And the continuing rise in the worldwide prices of precious metals, particularly gold, makes the value of our untapped minerals increase to trillions of dollars.”

Barbers said the current international trading price of gold had already reached more than US$2,000 per ounce and our country is sitting on millions upon millions of ounces of gold deposits while other countries sits on indefinite economic uncertainty.

“Aside from gold, we also have lots of other minerals and precious metals. Just imagine the prosperity that we have been missing all this time,” he said. “Are we waiting for another country to again lay claim over these wealth of ours?”

The solon from Mindanao cited the case of Canada and Australia, two of several countries that have prospered from mining, employing hundreds of thousands of people, and have contributed much to their local economy.

“They (Canada and Australia mining industry) contribute as much as 6% to their GDP (gross domestic product) compared to our 0.6% mining contribution. Let us use their experience as our template. They were able to mine in their countries with minimal environmental disruptions,” he said.

“With the advanced technology, we can do the same here. Natural resources are God-given endowments to be utilized by mankind for his prosperity. They were not intended to remain hidden forever while people starve and wallow in misery.”

As of September 2016, there are about 40 metallic mines and 62 non-metallic mines operating in the country, and these mining companies have already committed P13.1 billion for the development of their host and neighboring communities under their Social Development and Management Programs.

According to MGB’s 2016 data, there are 236,000 workers in the mining industry. The mining industry’s contribution to the country’s GDP is at 0.6 percent in the same year.

The contribution of minerals and mineral products to the country’s total exports is at 4 percent and 0.3 percent for non-metallic mineral manufacturers.

The MGB said the mining industry’s gross production value declined in the last two years, from P208.2 billion ($4.2 billion) in 2014 to only P100.6 billion ($2 billion) in 2016.

The Mining Act of 1995 allows for foreign ownership of mining assets and exploration permits. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the foreign investors’ participation in mining activities in 2004.

Mining tax is low at 4 percent for metallic and non-metallic minerals.

During the Aquino administration, a mining reform bill was drafted to increase revenues of the government. In the bill, companies will
either pay 10 percent tax on gross revenues or 45 percent to 55 percent tax on adjusted mining revenues plus a percentage of windfall profit, whichever is higher.

During her short stint as DENR chief, Secretary Gina Lopez ordered the closure of around 26 mining companies citing environmental and other violations.

Her successor, Secretary Roy Cimatu, has recently ordered the re-opening of at least five of these suspended firms while reviewing and assessing others for re-opening after they have corrected their lapses.