MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Foreign Miners Want Gov't By Their Side

Published by MAC on 2006-05-26
Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer

Foreign miners want gov't by their side

Philippine Daily Inquirer

26th May 2006

CANATUAN-Foreign miners are hoping the Philippine government will stand by them and their investments here in any face-off with the hugely powerful Roman Catholic Church which opposes mining.

The stakes are potentially crucial for the country, impoverished and burdened by a fast growing population, with officials estimating the industry could generate export earnings of $5.0 to $7.0 billion annually and create thousands of desperately needed jobs.

"There's a little bit of a pause because of the uncertainty but ultimately the government, we hope, will do the right thing," said John Ridsdel, corporate advisor to TVI Pacific of Canada at a ceremony here to top off a tailings dam.The company, anxious to ensure that all the powers are mollified, called on the services of a local tribal priest to sacrifice a squealing pig to sanctify the operation on this Philippine mountain.

The bishops in this Southeast Asian Roman Catholic nation earlier this year demanded in a pastoral letter that President Macapagal-Arroyo impose a nationwide mining ban, claiming it was socially divisive and environmentally disastrous.

The government stressed that repealing the 1995 Mining Law, recently cleared by the Supreme Court, was a non-starter due to its potential economic fallout.The trouble is that no one in the industry is convinced that they have heard the last on the issue due to the influence the Church wields in the world's third most populous Catholic nation.

With metal prices running at record levels, the drive to mine is powerful in the Philippines, which boasts one of the world's most generous mineral endowments. Mining firms are trying to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars from banks and other sources for some two dozen major projects.

TVI, which mills 600 tons of gold and silver ore each day two years into its operations, has had the smoothest sailing so far among the eight projects that have reached the production stage. Others have run into serious trouble.

Australia's Lafayette Mining has been forced to halt operations on Rapu-Rapu Island, having been hit with fines after a waste spillage in October was blamed by residents and Church officials for fish kills.

The public relations disaster has cost Lafayette's Philippines managers their jobs. With no cash flow and with overhead costs piling up, its creditors are also circling.

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