Bernardo M. Villegas
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The Fourth and Fifth Rs
published: Sep 27, 2019






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Nickel Mining Can be Sustainable (Part 2)

          The more enlightened members of the nickel industry, most of them active in the Philippine Nickel Industry Association, have provided a group of researchers in the Center for Corporate Responsibility of UA&P concrete evidence that sustainability is very high in their priorities as they truly espouse the triple Ps:  People, Planet and Profit.  As a group, PNIA members have planted over 4.2 million trees in Caraga and Palawan as part of ongoing progressive rehabilitation and reforestation in several mining sites.  This initiative is part of the efforts of the nickel miners to offset its mining footprint with a green footprint.  The reforestation effort includes planting endemic trees and grass species such as agoho, mahogany, giant bamboo, and narra, as well as fruit-bearing trees like calamansi, cashew, jackfruit, and cacao, among others.   Tree planting in vast forest areas can employ numerous rural dwellers who are among the poorest of the poor in the country, including members of indigenous tribes.   The increased supply of these fruit products can also help in slowing down inflation as middle-income households increasingly turn to fruits and vegetables for healthier diets.

         Cash crops such as rubber, coffee, vegetables and herbal plants have also been planted in the mine sites’ respective nurseries.  Apart from providing employment to the residents, the program also allows the companies to help their respective host communities by donating seedlings in support of various greening initiatives.  This has given birth to an emerging downstream industry, agro-forestry which also focuses on the community’s livelihood beyond mining.  The reforestation program is part of the nickel industry’s commitment and contribution to the government’s National Greening Program which aims to revegetate some 1.2 million hectares of “unproductive, denuded, and degraded” forest land nationwide from 2017 to 2022.

         Thanks to the responsible nickel mining firms who are actively engaging their respective local government units in their operations, there is an ongoing dramatic shift of local government authorities in their attitudes toward mining activities.  LGU heads realize that their active participation in the development of the mining industry is essential to sustained mining development.  This new position has been reinforced by the fact that there are initiatives to require mining companies to pay directly to local government units (LGUs) in mining areas their 2 percent share of the firms’ gross sales as local business tax.  The past practice was for the national government to collect the levy and then distribute this to the LGUs.  There is also an increasing participation of local government authorities in getting informed consent of communities prior to the exploration or site investigation and prior to reaching decision on a development, management or concession agreement.

         There is also a very healthy trend in which nickel mining companies are participating actively in regional economic development.  Whereas in the past, the benefits of mining had been very limited to a relatively few areas, leading nickel mining firms are making significant contributions to building strong local economies which are more balanced and dispersed, with greater social equity.  Some of them are experimenting with innovative partnership with LGUs and are pursuing different development models.  To expand their multiplier effects on a broader regional level, some of the leading mining companies are collaborating with Regional Development Councils to increase the participation of stakeholders in planning and administration and improving the access of marginal groups in mining-impacted communities to resources and opportunities.  It must be pointed out again and again that most mineral ores are found in remote and mountainous areas where there are very few sources of livelihood.  The legitimate concern for sustainability of the environment must be tempered with the need to address the serious extreme poverty situation in mineral-rich territories.

         There is no substitute to a tripartite cooperation among the Government, the mining companies and civil society.  There is increased evidence that nickel mining companies are investing in the upscaling and empowerment of host communities in partnership with various groups in order to pool resources and capabilities.  The LGU is expected to give approval to the operations, help in getting access to ODA funding, strategic co-ordination though the Regional Development Plans, exercise its new decentralized powers and allot budgets for long-term provision of public services.  In its turn, the mining enterprises are expected to source some of its raw materials from the localities, invest in human resource development, make available supply chain facilities, provide project management, construct operational infrastructure, establish certain ethical standards and provide operating funds.  Civil society organizations have the advantage of local knowledge, longevity of local presence, independence of views, relevance to household livelihoods and greater capacity to mobilize communities.  Civil society is also in a better position to champion environmental sustainability. (To be continued).