MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Changing gov't policies to deter mine investors

Published by MAC on 2006-07-07

Changing gov't policies to deter mine investors

By Daxim Lucas, Inquirer - http://business.inq7.net/money/topstories/view_article.php?article_id=8687

7th July 2006

Publised on page B1 of the July 8, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

LARGE, FOREIGN MINING FIRMS WILL BE deterred from investing in the country if the government continues to vacillate on its policies for the mining sector, a leading advocate of the industry warned yesterday.

In an interview, Chamber of Mines of the Philippines president Benjamin Philip Romualdez pointed out that foreign investors were critical for the development of the mining industry since local companies lacked the capital to exploit the full potential of the country's metal and mineral reserves.

"There will always be noise [from opponents of mining] in any country," he said, referring to civil society, environmental and Church-oriented groups opposed to the development of the local mining sector. "That doesn't put [the potential investors] off. What will deter them is if government's policies continue to shift and change."

The administration of President Macapagal-Arroyo had initially welcomed the resurgence of the mining sector with open arms last year, but its enthusiasm has waned in recent months in the face of popular opposition to the industry.

The government is hoping to be able to tap the country's estimated $840 billion in metal and mineral reserves to help lift the country out of poverty.

Romualdez, however, welcomed the rabid opposition to mining from some sectoral groups, saying it was part of the country's "vibrant democracy."

"When an influential group like the Catholic Church objects, it makes political sense for the policymakers to listen," he said at the sidelines of the annual meeting of the Bishops-Businessmen's Conference on Human Development yesterday at the Asian Institute of Management. "And they should listen to these ideas."

During the forum, representatives of various groups took turns assailing the government's mining policies, citing the dangers to the environment and to the social order.

Sorsogon Bishop Arturo M. Bastes was particularly vocal, since his diocese encompasses the site of the controversial Rapu-Rapu mining operation.

"I'm disappointed and I'm fearful for what will happen," he said. "[Mining] is a danger to the environment, and there is great danger [for] the future."

Despite this, the influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) appeared to have softened its stance against the controversial industry.

In an interview yesterday, CBCP president and Jaro Archbishop Angel M. Lagdameo said he was now open to dialogue with concerned parties about the possibility of allowing "sustainable mining" in the country.

"We can talk about responsible mining," he said. "We are open to suggestions."

Romualdez lamented that the forum failed to highlight the benefits of mining to the local economy and to the local communities.

He predicted that the mining industry would march on, regardless of the opposition being raised against it.

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