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House panel approves People's Mining bill aimed at aiding communities

The House Committee on Natural Resources this week approved a bill mandating mining operations in the country to aid communities, Kabataan party-list Representative Raoul Manuel said on Friday.

House Bill 259 - the People’s Mining bill - states that the exploration, development and utilization of natural resources shall comply with the following principles:

  • a domestic needs-based development of the industry should be pursued by the state,
  • the mining industry will be geared towards national industrialization and built for the production of raw materials such as base metals, basic chemicals and petrochemicals needed by the basic, medium and heavy industries to produce as much consumer, intermediate and capital goods with the country's stock of finite mineral and non-mine al industrial raw materials,
  • the government will provide appropriate support and protection to Filipino corporations to further develop and increase their participation in the industry,
  • all mining industry investments will be mutually beneficial and help achieve the specific target and goals of the National Industrialization Program, and
  • the state must use local sources such as but not limited to the granting of incentives and financial aid to local private sector investors by rechanneling government budget allocations for foreign debt payments and military expenditures, as well as proceeds from the government shares of the Malampaya natural gas project, among others.

The bill also states that the government, in exceptional cases, was authorized to allow foreign corporations to invest in the mineral industry based on the National Industrialization Program, provided that the participation of foreign companies in the critical stages of minerals extraction and processing will be in accordance with a mandatory program or agreement for technology transfer and equity shares that do not exceed 40 percent of the full capital requirements.

Such foreign investment, however, will only be allowed provided that capital accumulation and reinvestment within the country would be primarily encouraged over profit repatriation by the foreign companies.

The bill, however, bans mining in prime agricultural lands and prohibits mining corporations, their principals, local firms and conduits that have a bad track record in the Philippines from investing in the country.

Likewise, the bill prohibits mining in areas specified for food production, fisheries development, watershed and heritage areas, sacred sites of indigenous people, and in small island ecosystems.

Mining was also prohibited in environmentally-critical areas, such as small island ecosystems, primary forests, and environmentally sensitive watersheds.

“This bill aims to ensure that mining operators will be of aid to communities and boost our national industries, instead of destroying the environment and communities,” Manuel said.

The measure's explanatory note pointed to several mining accidents, such as the 1996 Marcopper tragedy that left the Boac River in Marinduque biologically dead, the Lafayette mine spill in Rapu-Rapu Island in Albay that contained cyanide in 2005, and the 2012 Philex mine spill in Benguet, as well as other incidents that include the displacement of indigenous communities, if not harassing them with legal charges.

“As it is, mining operations extract and exploit the rich resources of communities and use such mineral resources for export. Then it is shipped back here, being used in our gadgets and the like, and sold at a higher price,” Manuel added.

The bill’s explanatory note also stated that the share of mining in the gross domestic product is only 0.7%, while its contribution to employment is only 0.6%.

Government shares from mining in taxes, royalties and fees, on the other hand, reached P22.83 billion in 2013 or a measly 1.33% of total tax revenues.

“Thus, this bill is an amalgamation of previous alternative policy proposals which seek to reorient the Philippine mining industry towards the wise and sustainable development and judicious use of our mineral resources,” the explanatory note on the measure read.

“If properly regulated and developed, these resources will be a requisite to developing a strong, self-reliant and progressive economy, founded on a healthy balance between agriculture and industrialization and programmed to break the cycle of the country's underdevelopment. In view of the foregoing, the approval of this bill is earnestly sought,” it added. — DVM, GMA Intergrated News