A global standard for responsible mining

July 1, 2016 was the first day in office of newly minted DENR Secretary Regina Lopez. She marked the day with a briefing for the press that started at 10 a.m. and ended with a press conference featuring the mining beat reporters whom she was facing for the first time as Secretary.

Before the briefing, outgoing Secretary Ramon Paje turned over the department flag to his successor to mark the official turnover of power and responsibility. Paje had been quoted by media as saying that Gina Lopez was perfect for the job, this despite her consistent pronouncements that there was no such thing as responsible mining in the Philippines - which was just like saying that Paje was not doing his job. Paje and of course MGB Director Leo Jasareno.

But the briefing and press conferences may have revealed a new - or at least a transforming - Gina Lopez. I say this because of a crucial portion of the briefing, that part when Leo Jasareno spoke up about ISO 14001 and Madame Lopez picked up from where Jasareno left off.

I have a video of the briefing and was happy to come across this portion.

About ISO 14001, Jasareno was explaining to his new boss that the requirement that all mining contractors undergo this environ- mental audit was the Government’s way of separating the responsible from the irresponsible. If you comply with the requirements of ISO 14001, Jasareno said, you were in effect operating at par with the highest international standards.

Those words appeared to be like music to the Secretary. She took the microphone from her subordinate and told the assembled executives and rank and file employees of the DENR: if one is really responsible, one has to abide by the highest standards and “the standards we want for our beloved country is ISO 14001”.

ISO 14001, said the Madame secretary, is just another way of saying “responsible mining”.

Those words from the Madame secretary herself should put to rest the doubts and even cynicism from critics of the mining industry who say that there is no clear cut definition of responsible mining and the mining companies are given the freedom to state what responsible mining is. On the contrary- ISO 14001 is a clear set of standards that mining operations globally are audited against - with a foreign consultant, TUV Rheinland, doing the audit.

The DENR through the MGB already has a list of mining operators who have been deemed compliant with this global standard.

This marks a shift from the stance of the pre-DENR Gina Lopez to the stance of Madame Secretary who now acknowledges the existence of responsible mining standards against which operation in the Philippines can be audited. And audited they have been, as mandated by her predecessor.

Which is why we know that

1) there IS responsive mining in the Philippines;

2) there are standards to guide us in evaluating who is and who isn’t, and

3) certifications have already been issued to compliant mining operations in the Philip- pines.

Which should make easier the bigger battle that the Madame Secretary has to wage, going up against deeply embedded local interests behind irresponsible mining who will move heaven and earth to keep from being held responsible for the environmental degradation their operations cause.

On this score, the Madame Secretary does not stand alone: every Filipino should stand firm against irresponsible mining in the Philippines - as I commit myself to doing.

Mabuhay Ang Pilipinas!


The Duterte Presidency provides Mindanao - long denied proper representation in the nation- al government in Manila - a unique chance to shift the focus of investors towards the island. The island for the longest time has been called the “next frontier” of the Philippines.

Mindanao is the second largest island in the Philippines with a land area of 10 million hectares - one third of the country’s total size - and is larger in size than 125 countries in the world. It is also the eighth most populous island in the world.

In 2011 it was reported that the United States estimated the natural wealth of Mindanao to be approaching $70 trillion, said to be up to 70 percent of the Philippines’ total mineral resources. These range from gold and copper to nickel, and may not even include natural gas reserves that are said to be buried in an area covering about seven provinces.

No wonder that for mineral resources exploration and utilization alone, investments that reach $15 Billion have been planned for Mindanao and with a Mindanaoan now president, the transformation of plans into reality could be hastened.

Fifteen billion dollars is not loose change by any measure.

For a while, observers of the mining industry feared that the selection of Regina Lopez could shoo away the investors and cause a drying up of the investor pipeline into Mindanao. Her initial pronouncements were not helpful, and with videotapes of many of her previous public statements seemed to indicate that Lopez and the industry would be enveloped in controversy and lawsuits for the duration of the Duterte Administration.

But this initial fear may turn out to be baseless, because Lopez has herself made an apparent about-face; while pronouncing very clearly in the past that “there is no responsible mining in the Philippines”, last July 1 she stated very clearly during her first press confer- ence as DENR secretary that “ISO 14001 is another way of saying esponsible mining.”

ISO 14001 certification had been mandated by her predecessor as Secretary, and mining operators complied. As per data from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, more than half of the 42 large scale mining operations have obtained their ISO 14001 certification and the rest are in the process with fully complying with its requirements.

Which should be good news for Mindanao. Because if the $15 billion in mining investments slated for Mindanao are to be implement- ed only by ISO 14001 certified mining firms, then Mindanao will reap the rewards of responsible mining that will create jobs and opportunities for the many on the island who today are part of millions who still live beneath the poverty line.

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