Mine Ore Ours? Striking the balance within the Philippine mining industry

By: Diego Callejas, Matthew Arevalo, Kyla Ventura, and Jonah Hufano

Photo Courtesy: ABS-CBN

Being the fifth most mineralized country in the world, mining has long been painted as an evil to the environment, leading to the depletion of natural resources in the Philippines.  According to the Philippine Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), there were over 49 metallic mines in the country that employed over 196,000 workers as of 2022.The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) also placed the gross domestic values of large-scale metallic mining at PHP 101.1 billion. 

With these big figures and the nature of the mining industry’s work, it is not a surprise that there have been incidents where mining has been placed under a negative spotlight. Just last February, residents from Broke’s Point, Palawan have formed human barricades in order to stop illegal mining operations of Ipilan Nickel Corporation that lacked local government permits and violated their laws. Given this issue, it would be easy to ask, “what makes mining so important given the risks they come with?”

If you ask the miners how they were before mining, they wouldn’t know because they have been miners ever since.” Dr. Decibel Faustino-Eslava, a professor at the School of Environmental Science, University of the Philippines Los Baños, said that even before the country was colonized, Filipinos were already mining gold and other natural resources.

The practice of mining is something that humans rely on to produce raw materials critical to the development of a nation’s economy. In 2021, the Gross Provincial Domestic Product (GPDP) of the province of Benguet in the Philippines was valued at Php 7.49 billion. Of the valued GPDP of Benguet in 2021, 12.2% of it is attributed to mining and quarrying, one of the highest among the industries in the province. Other than that, it provided jobs that boost the livelihood of people. In the Mining Industry Coordinating Council’s (MICC) report, local areas that host mining activities have lowered their poverty incidence significantly from 2006 to 2018 such as Agusan del Norte and Palawan. Given the economic benefits of mining, how can mining become a sustainable and environmentally friendly endeavor?

Well, as Dr. Eslave clarified, there is no such thing as sustainable mineral resources. “What we have is sustainability in the use of mining resources,” she said. The ores, such as gold, nickel, and copper, are not replenishable, meaning they are not renewable and are finite. However, with the help of sustainable mining practices they can be environmentally and economically beneficial for the majority. 

The industry is admittedly teetering between beneficial and harmful. The strive to find balance is a life-long pursuit that aims to create a better future for the economy and environment.

Digging Deeper into Mining’s history in the Philippines

The practice of mining has long been embedded deeply into the culture of the Filipinos. According to Marcelle Villegas, a science journalist who specializes in History and Biology, even during precolonial times, different groups in the country have already been mining. It has been passed down through many generations, opening many opportunities for communities living nearby. 

It was in the 1920s when the mining industry reached its peak. American businessmen Nils Petersen, Judge Hauserman, and Judge Bean established the Benguet Consolidated Mining Co., now known as Benguet Mining Corporation in Benguet. 

Through the passage of time, mining had been shaped by colonization, wars, and changing government policies. The mining industry is heavily important to the country. It is not a practice that can simply be halted despite its bad reputation.

Being the one of the biggest exporters of minerals around the world, mining has contributed PHP 101.1 billion towards the Philippines GDP last 2020 and exported USD 3,851 billion for the first semester of 2022. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority’s report on mineral exports for 2020 minerals such as copper concentrates (USD128.19 million) amounted to the most followed by copper metal (USD1.14 billion), gold (USD 670.51 million), iron ore agglomerates (USD 145.81 million), chromium ore (USD4.97 million), and others at (USD2.13 billion) 

The government recognizes this and has instead passed environmental laws such as the Environmental Compliance Certificate (Presidential Decree No. 1586), and the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) System (DENR AO No. 2003-30) that mining companies must adhere to in order to manage the industry and protect the country’s mineral resources. Currently, despite the laws set to better manage the effects brought upon by mining, its long-term environmental impacts are still a cause for concern.

Benguet Mining Corporation first started out gold mining in 1903 in Benguet. They expanded into chromite production, which comes from mining chromium and is used in manufacturing stainless steel, in 1934 and established a mining site in Masinloc, Zambales. In 1971, they ventured into copper production, which is done through underground mining, with their operations being held in San Marcelino, Zambales. It is the oldest and the first mining corporation in the whole country. 

In the Province of Benguet, mining has been a central economic driver for the province, wherein mining and quarrying contributed to the most GDP Growth at 1.9% being the highest in the agricultural industry. However, with this major growth comes a price. 

As established earlier, the mining industry is a strong industry in terms of international trade. This is due to the existence of large-scale mining companies. Philex Mining Corporation is one of the biggest mining companies in the country, having 1,930 employees, and a revenue of $170.1M as of 2022 as reported by GlobalData.com. Focusing on mining copper concentrates, It is one of the longest operating mines in the country, and it produces copper concentrates, containing copper, gold and silver as stated by the Philippine Stock Exchange. its four main mining sites are the Padcal Mines located in Benguet, the Silangan Project located in Surigao del Norte, the Bulawan Project in Sipalay City, Negros Occidental; and the Sibutad Project in Zamboanga del Norte. It was established back in 1955 and has generated over 2000 jobs for Filipinos in 2017 according to their website.

Photo from: Canva by No Glory Photo from: Aksel Osterlof via mindat.org

An interview was held to help us imagine what life is like for people who live near mining operations.  Angela (not her real name), one of the residents of Baguio, shared that they were not allowed to declare ownership of her husband’s childhood home which they were living in. This home is located in one of the properties owned by Philex Mining Corporation in Baguio. She expressed how worrisome it is for her to live on top of a mining operation for safety reasons. Because of ongoing mining operations, the soil quality of their land could decrease, causing the foundation of their house to be eroded. 

In the interview with Angela, her family is now building their own home but is still on the same land owned by Philex Mining. Although a specific date was not mentioned, she mentioned that she could not remember a time where there were no mining operations happening around their home. She further explained how they could not have a title of ownership unless there will be a new law that will allow them to claim the land their house is built on. 

Despite this situation, there are laws and regulations set in place to help combat these issues and ensure that mining in the Philippines is fair for all.

Photo from: PHILEX Mining

Do Ore Don’t? Laws and Regulations for Small Scale Mining in the Philippines

The Philippines has the following major policies regarding mining: The Philippine Mining Act of 1995 or the Republic Act (R.A.) no. 7942 and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Administrative Order (A.O.) no. 2010-21. The Philippine Mining Act was laid down by the government to guide the large-scale mining operations and other related activities that make use of natural resources found in the country. The DENR A.O. no. 2010-21 was written as rules and regulations in accordance with the previously mentioned Republic Act. These regulations allowed for mining practices to prosper in the country and to further embed them into the country’s culture.

Mining has become a part of the daily lives of those within host communities – or those localities in which mining sites are situated and whose residents might also be employed by large-scale mining companies. They have grown dependent on the compensation given by these mining companies. According to a report done by the Asian Institute of Management for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation in May of 2011, these ‘compensations’ came in the form of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects that large mining companies had as part of building trust with communities in which they mined. These voluntary actions, which mainly focused on environmental, social, and economic contributions, were done in order to reduce the negative impact of mining in communities. Large mining companies usually invest in building schools, roads, hospitals, and generating electricity within the town. Additionally, the Mining Act approved by Final Mine Rehabilitation and Decommissioning Plan (FMDRP), required mining companies to include rehabilitation and compensation to be part of the mining budget. This meant that the law required compensation as part of the initial budget proposed by mining companies. Large mining companies were held accountable by the Philippine law to practice responsible mining. But small-scale mining companies were not held to the same standards.

According to Dr. Eslava, the biggest problem that the mining industry faces is not the lack of mandates and laws, but rather the appropriation of financial investments in order to support small-scale miners and encourage them to practice mining responsibly. While large scale-mining is categorized by a company having more than 20 employees and are managed by the Mines and Geoscience Bureau (MGB), small-scale mining companies only have around five to eight employees who travel to different mining sites and are supervised by LGUs with the MGB overseeing the Provincial Mining Regulatory Boards. 

The practice of small-scale mining was formally recognized back in 1991 through R.A 7076 or the Small Scale Mining Act of 1991. It is one of the two laws that regulate small-scale mining in the Philippines and is also known as Minahang Bayan Act. Another law concerning small-scale mining is the Presidential Decree 1899 ( PD 1899) or Establishing Small-Scale Mining as a New Dimension in Mineral Development.

These regulations were placed in order to ensure equal shares among the resources available and give small scale miners better incentives to follow the regulations and laws. 

The Minahang Bayan Act heavily incentivises small-scale miners who operate legally. Dr. Eslava mentions that given the number of Minahang Bayan areas, none have actually been able to totally comply with requirements and regulations of the act, which meant that no recognized small-scale mining companies should actually be in operation. In an article by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), 20 mining companies were found to have violated various mining and environmental laws and regulations. These violations included lack of environmental clearance certificates (ECCs), siltation, soil erosion, lack of tree-cutting or water permits, and no ISO 14001 certification. The ISO 14001 certificate is a globally accepted set of standards for establishing an environment-friendly goal. It helps organizations measure their environmental efficiency by maximizing resources and minimizing waste generation. This also creates trust within their host communities as it provides transparency and concern for the land.

Photo from: International Labor Organization

R.A. 7076 (Minahang Bayan Act)


Section 4.

The People’s Small-scale Mining Program shall include the following features:

(a) The identification, segregation and reservation of certain mineral lands as people’s small-scale mining areas;

(b) The recognition of prior existing rights and productivity;

(c) The encouragement of the formation of cooperatives;

(d) The extension of technical and financial assistance, and other social services;

(e) The extension of assistance in processing and marketing;

(f) The generation of ancillary livelihood activities;

(g) The regulation of the small-scale mining industry with the view to encourage growth and productivity; and

(h) The efficient collection of government revenue.

Section 27

Violations of the provisions of this Act or of the rules and regulations issued pursuant hereto shall be penalized with imprisonment of not less than six (6) months nor more than six (6) years and shall include the confiscation and seizure of equipment, tools and instruments.

However, the lack of proper implementation of these laws has caused issues in communities that are heavily populated by small-scale miners such as the Municipality of Itogon in Benguet. The lack of proper implementation or noncompliance with the terms and conditions set by RA 7076 include abandonment of mining sites, absence of issued licenses, lack of compensation and royalties to host communities, and other acts of disobedience. Violators who perform these acts shall be fined an amount not less than PHP 20,000, and not more than PHP 100,000. Failure to comply may lead to ineligibility for other small-scale mining contracts

“All large-scale mining companies are listed companies,” Dr. Eslava stated, disclosing that image and compliance to the law is an important factor to these big names in order for them to stay operational and maintain their shares in the stock exchange market. 

Not the same can be said of some smaller scale mining companies who do not pay their taxes. They do not have permits from the government to mine. Once they are discovered by the local government, they leave the areas they mine and all the mess they have caused.

“Nothing happens in [those] areas,” Angela said. “Of course the people who live in those areas are affected, especially during typhoons or strong rains.” Another Baguio resident, a student in college, recounted how landslides caused by mining directly affects his experience as a commuter, given the bad traffic conditions they caused the residents  who lived in Green Valley Village. 

Photo from: Project PAMANA

Setting it in Stone: Sustainable Mining Practices

To further support the goal of enabling sustainable practices in the Philippine mining sector and preserving biomes for future generations, Project PAMANA was created. Contrary to popular belief, mining as an industry in the Philippines is being practiced scientifically and with economic sustainability in mind as emphasized by Dr. Eslava. In 2022, the University of Glasgow (United Kingdom) and the University of the Philippines (Los Banos) spearheaded Project PAMANA that envisions a sustainable Philippine mining sector and preserves precious Philippine biomes for future generations. 

Project PAMANA uses scientific innovations and technology to leave a legacy of sustainable mineral resources for the Filipinos through various work packages. A work package is a mini project within a project itself. This includes a clear work description, including fully described tasks and expected results, as well as the implementation, completion, project plans.  The mining industry could use the technologies used in these work packages to gauge whether their methods are harmful or not to the environment.

Photo from: Project PAMANA

Work Package Description
Hydrogeochemical and ecological baselining and monitoring
  • Figuring out what a particular environment is like without any human interference, and keeping an eye on any changes that happen over time.
  • Hydrogeochemical 
    • Baselining, scientists check properties of water like temperature, pH, and pollutants to create a baseline for water quality. 
    • Monitoring helps them see how things change over time. 
  • Ecological 
    • Baselining, scientists look at things like plants, animals, and soil to understand how an ecosystem works. 
    • Monitoring helps track changes caused by human activity like logging or pollution. These practices help people make smart choices about taking care of the environment.
Environmental impacts of contaminated sediment from legacy and contemporary mining in Philippine river catchments Contaminated sediment and fine-grained soil from old and current mining can cause harmful effects on the environment. This includes changes in land features, contaminated soil and water, and reduced aquatic biodiversity in areas affected by mines. Even with management efforts, the contaminated materials may still end up in surrounding waterways during severe weather, leading to more issues downstream. This work package initiative is focused on assessing the extent of these environmental impacts in the Agno river catchment.
Predicting past, present and future impact of mining in the Philippines The future of contaminants linked with sediment relies on how sediment is moved and the shape of the river landforms. Collecting sediment samples from Work Package 2 produces significant and reliable data but the levels of contaminants in between the sampling locations are not known. Advanced numerical modeling of sediment transport and flooding can help to bridge these gaps by providing a three-dimensional representation.

Another scientifically sustainable method of mining is In-situ mining. This mining practice involves the drilling of a series of boreholes into an ore-rich area. This is followed by acids or bases used to dissolve mineral deposits. Although not required, water may be used as an additive to increase efficiency. The dissolved minerals are then pumped to the surface for collection. This method leaves behind land holes, but not as destructive and invasive as open pit mining. 

Light at the End of the Tunnel: The future of mining in the Philippines

As emphasized by Dr. Eslava, mining is ingrained into the culture and the economy of the country. It is a practice that has been passed down onto many generations and is one that cannot easily be erased. In fact, despite its bad reputation, the industry has laws and regulations that were established to ensure safety of both miners and the environment. Mining itself is not the problem but rather, it is the fact that mineral resources are finite and cannot be replaced. That is the dilemma and is the reason why sustainable mining practices are being researched upon and promoted. This along with better implementation of the laws will allow for a better future of mining. For our part, we can ensure the security of the mining industry’s future through learning about future developments in sustainable practices and spreading awareness. This can help lead to the longevity of natural resources for generations to come, leaving them a lasting legacy and a brighter future.