Mining industry gets ‘too much bad press’: Philippine mining lawyer Patricia Bunye | News | eco business

While she declines to comment on the details of the ongoing anti-mining protests in the Philippines, Bunye cites past incidents of “media abuse” to illustrate why the mining industry is portrayed in a bad light.

Attorney Patricia Bunye (third from left) speaks at a panel discussion held during an International Women’s Day celebration in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig, Philippines. “Mining has been maligned and is a very misunderstood industry,” she said. Image: US Agency for International Development (USAID)

An example was the Marcopper mining disaster in 1996. The incident, involving Marcopper Mining Corporation, a Canadian company, has been described as one of the worst mining and environmental disasters in Philippine history. A massive spill of waste from the mining area then killed marine life and displaced local residents living near the site in Marinduque province.

This led directly to the government’s overhaul of the Philippines’ mining law, and the increased scrutiny and gossip about mining damaged the industry’s reputation, Bunye said, while the mining industry’s efforts to improve its operations were not well publicized.

The result is that the “sad tale of Marcopper” will forever be considered synonymous with the mining industry, Bunye believes. “Everyone in the industry is Marcopper,” she said. “Unfortunately, the story stuck.”

We are unable to explain the problems well. What is highlighted is all the negatives… That [questions] go unanswered, or if they are answered, it will not be done as well as it should be.

Patricia Bunye, mining attorney

Bunye, who heads the mining and natural resources division and energy practice group at law firm Cruz Marcelo and Tenefrancia, said there are examples of mining companies that have adopted best practices. Two she mentions are Nickel Asia Corporation, the largest producer of lateritic nickel ore in the country, and the Didipio gold mine owned by OceanaGold.

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Nickel Asia’s subsidiary, Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corp., has transformed the remote town of Bataraza, Palawan, into a community with its own hospital, school, parks, church and even a clubhouse for residents. The Company has rehabilitated approximately 200 hectares of what was formerly a mine site and planted over a million surviving trees of various species on the site. More than 600 hectares of land have been reforested with native tree species.

OceanaGold’s Didipio Mine in Nueva Vizcaya has planted over two million trees and reforested a total of approximately 1,3000 hectares on its mine property, according to its website. However, the mining company has also had a standoff with the local community during the pandemic.

The 1996 Marcopper mine disaster left the Boac Rver a ‘dead river’ in Marinduque. Image: Gina Lopez PH

One rotten apple spoils the whole barrel?

Bunye tells Eco-Business that the mining industry is also getting a bad rap, as problems arise with small miners who aren’t as tightly regulated and monitored as the larger companies, who are required to comply with mining laws that are already in place.

Small-scale or artisanal mining is carried out by individuals, groups, families, or cooperatives with minimal or no mechanization. Interest groups usually only need to get permits from local government entities to operate the mines, and Bunye says it’s easy for them to make “deals” with government officials there, especially when those officials change very quickly.

In contrast, to conduct large-scale mining operations, corporations must provide the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) with proof of free and prior consent from indigenous communities, undergo an environmental impact assessment, and submit a site remediation plan that will be implemented when the mine reaches the end of its life reached.

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Bunye believes more people need to understand how mining is “moving the country forward.” “Mining is our competitive advantage,” she said, adding that, regrettably, it’s a very misunderstood industry.

The Philippines is the fifth richest country in the world for gold, nickel, copper and chromite, with untapped reserves estimated at US$1 trillion. According to Treasury Secretary Benjamin Diokno, the government sees mining as a “key engine” for economic growth. But mining advocates have said that the environmental and social impacts of mining far outweigh the contribution it can make to the economy.

Last month, protesters on Sibuyan Island successfully halted Altai Mining Corp’s operations. In response, Brooke’s Point locals also set up a human barricade to blockade the Ipilan Nickel Corporation (INC) operations.

As of this writing, INC continues to operate, although the Mayor’s Permit, one of the mandatory local government requirements, has not been renewed. The firm has issued an injunction against protesters, but its continuation will depend on the evidence and testimony, which will be discussed on March 16.

The title of this article was edited on March 15th. The original headline stated that Patricia Bunye is a representative of the Philippine Chamber of Mines. Bunye has clarified that she spoke to the media in her personal capacity and not on behalf of the organization.

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