Sustainable progress through responsible mining

As the fifth most mineralized country in the world, the Philippines’ vast wealth of resources offers an extraordinary opportunity for mining to emerge as a catalyst for economic growth. However, this industry’s complete potential remains largely untapped. Persistent challenges, such as regulatory and  policy issues, environmental concerns, and safety issues, have hindered the growth of the domestic mining sector, limiting its contribution to the economy.

Historically, mining has been overlooked in terms of its contribution and economic importance. Nonetheless, it has consistently played a crucial role in upholding the nation’s economic stability, particularly during the global pandemic. Mining emerged as one of the most robust and least affected industries even amidst the slowdown that affected the rest of the world.

Statistics from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) reveal that employment in the mining sector grew from an estimated 180,000 in 2020 to 208,000 by the end of 2022 despite widespread restrictions that paralyzed business activities across various industries.

Latest data from MGB also showed that metal production in the first six months of this year increased by 8.06 percent to P123.07 billion, spurred by robust gold and nickel output.

Today, as the world increasingly pivots towards clean and green technologies, the mining industry is presented with exciting opportunities, driven by the growing demand for nickel and lithium.

Recent reports indicate that the growing demand for electric vehicle (EV) batteries has instilled confidence among Philippine nickel producers who are now anticipating a significant upswing in raw nickel mining.

Demand for minerals is expected to be sustained, with new technologies driving digitalization, economic growth, and social development across the world. This global shift highlights an urgent opportunity to further develop our local mining industry.

During the 2023 Mining Conference, Philex Mining chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan (MVP) put forward a compelling case for the advancement of the mining industry as he emphasized the sector’s importance in promoting sustainability through the promotion of green technologies.

According to MVP, “The world is entering an era of sustained resource demand as economies expand and population explodes. The Philippines missed the economic bus during the manufacturing cycle in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and the export boom in the ‘70s and ‘80s. This time we cannot miss this bus yet again, with our available mineral resource base.”

“I would then argue that in many respects, sustainability rests on green technology and, by extension, reliance on mining would continue,” he added.

Trade and Industry Secretary Alfredo Pascual also underscored mining sector’s significance in fostering economic growth, acknowledging the government’s efforts to bolster the green metals sector.

“There is a tremendous opportunity to use the extractive industry’s potential to propel long-term economic growth. Philippine companies have several opportunities in mining and mineral processing,” he said.

Mining holds the potential to stimulate economic expansion, foster job creation within local communities, and emerge as a substantial revenue stream for the government through taxation of mining companies.

Given the abundance of opportunities in the industry, it would be a disservice to our nation to shun mining due to its challenges and risks. Instead, we should seek ways and means to responsibly and sustainably utilize our mineral resources.

As MVP emphasized: “Mining is not the enemy, but poverty is. The most damaging myth in which our industry must contend with is the idea that we must choose between sustainability and mining. We should forge ahead together as one industry, in unity, in strength, and do the right things for our people and for our planet.”

Realizing the full potential of our mining industry in a sustainable and responsible manner requires the collaboration of all stakeholders, including the government, private sector, and local communities.

Beyond infrastructure development to maximize economic benefits, the mining industry should also evolve to address criticisms, such as safety, labor practices, as well as environmental impact. A holistic approach to the development of the mining industry is necessary to achieve the collective benefit sustainably and to ensure that the next generation can gain from it as well.

All opportunities come with responsibilities. In any industry, realizing the full potential of an opportunity always comes with risks – that, if approached sustainably, can lead to shared benefits for all.

At the end of the day, it is value creation that both government and the private sector should always prioritize. As a result,economic growth, job generation, and improvement in lives cannot be far behind.