PRRD to miners: Rehabilitate or risk heavier tax

MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday warned mining companies in the country to either rehabilitate and restore respective mine areas and support communities there as government requires or risk being taxed to the maximum possible.

“Spend to restore or I’ll tax you to death,” he said during his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) held at the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City.

He noted mine areas’ environmentally worn-out state, and poverty degradation helps further fuel there. As such, there’s a need to raise urgency for rehabilitating the mine sites and supporting communities concerned.

Mining companies must act accordingly as these after allfinancially benefited from extracting minerals in the country, he continued.

According to Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), total estimated production value for metallic minerals in 2015 reached PHP110.21 billion.

Mining generated and contributed to the Philippine economy that year about PHP25.78 billion in national and local taxes, fees and royalties, MGB also said.

President Duterte isn’t discounting the possibility of raising mining taxes particularly if mine areas remain environmentally degraded and impoverished.

Raising such taxes will help government generate revenues which can be used to rehabilitate mine areas and support communities there, he noted.

“I’ll think of something that’ll compensate for damage done,” he said.

He also warned about stopping mining in the country if warranted.

“Protection of the environment must be prioritized ahead of mining and others — that policy is non-negotiable,” he said.

Heeding President Duterte’s call, MGB’s mother agency Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) elevated in 2017’s first semester its crackdown against ecologically damaging irresponsible mining nationwide.

Then-DENR Secretary Gina Lopez reported deciding to close down 23 metallic mines in the country and to suspend five others for various environmental violations discovered during this agency’s nationwide audit last year.

She also announced her decision to scrap 75 mineral production sharing agreements.

Her decisions drew protests from mining stakeholders.

“My issue here is not about mining but social justice – if there are businesses and foreigners that go and utilize resources of an area for their benefit but people there suffer, that’s social injustice,” she said justifying her decisions.

Affected mining companies have appealed their respective cases to the Office of the President.

During his second SONA, President Duterte urged mining companies to undertake responsible mineral extraction so impact to the environment and communities concerned is lessened.

Refrain from unbridled destruction when extracting minerals, he told the mining companies.

“Declare the correct income and pay correct taxes,” he also reminded mining companies nationwide.

Government will act accordingly on such companies’ failure to do so, he assured.

This year, Commission on Appointments rejected Lopez’ designation as DENR Secretary. Her successor former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Roy Cimatu vowed promoting responsible mining nationwide.

Sustainable integrated area development (SIAD) is the strategy Lopez planned implementing in mining-affected areas to help communities and the environment there.

She’s optimistic about SIAD, noting this strategy helped generate eco-tourism and other environment-friendly economic activities in rural areas where she implemented this before heading DENR.

Six mining companies that passed DENR’s nationwide audit already formally joined Lopez’ bid to promote SIAD and build mini-economic zones through responsible mineral extraction.

The companies are SR Metals Inc. and Agata Mining Ventures Inc., both in Agusan del Norte; Philsaga Mining Corp. in Agusan del Sur; Carmen Copper Corp. in Cebu; as well as Filminera Resources Corp. and Philippine Gold Processing and Refining Corp. both in Masbate, said DENR.

Such companies committed becoming responsible mining advocates and helping ensure mining communities’ general welfare while promoting sustainable natural resource management there, DENR added.

Meanwhile, Jose Bayani “JB” Baylon, vice president for corporate communications of Nickel Asia Corporation (NAC), in a text message, agree to the President that mining companies should operate responsibly.

“He (Duterte) is right to demand that mining operations (should) be responsible. There is no place for irresponsible citizenship (individual or corporate in the Philippines,” he stressed.