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Church teachings on sustainable mining: Shared responsibility

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(Part 5)

The final chapter of the encyclical Laudato Si focuses on the primordial importance of environmental education. Here, every single individual must be involved, especially the young. This education has to affect actions and daily habits, the reduction of water consumption, the sorting of waste, and even turning off unnecessary lights and, among the well-to-do, air-conditioning units.

An integral ecology is also made up of simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation, and selfishness. As Pope Francis proposed in Evangelium Gaudium, sobriety, when lived freely and consciously, is liberating, just as happiness means knowing how to limit some needs which only diminish us, and being open to the many different possibilities which life can offer. In this way we must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.

To put this into practice, each individual must add to his regular examination of conscience a new dimension. He or she must reflect seriously on how one has lived in communion, not only with God, with others, and with oneself, but also with all creatures and with nature. In this regard, the Japanese people are the foremost examples. Whether in taking public transport, going to theaters, shopping in a mall, watching football games in the World Cup, the typical Japanese individual is always considering how his or her individual behavior is impacting the welfare of his or her neighbor. I saw this with my own eyes in a recent trip I made to Tokyo. It was impressive how on the grounds of vast public parks and walking trails with which the city is endowed, I did not see a single piece of litter, despite hundreds of people exercising and jogging along the various paths.

When I returned to the Philippines, I was overjoyed to read in the papers that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) had agreed with leaders of the mining industry of the Philippines to implement policy reforms that will make the local mining industry more sustainable, responsible, transparent, and investor friendly. Highlighted in the joint declaration are the commitment to sustainable mining practices, the protection of biodiversity, and the respect for the rights of the local communities in the mining areas. Echoing very much the guidelines found in the encyclicals of the Catholic Church, especially those of Pope Francis, the mining companies committed to use the most efficient technologies for judicious extraction and optimum utilization of mineral resources, uphold ecological integrity, and safeguard the common good.

Once again, we have to remind ourselves that the common good is defined in the Philippine Constitution of 1987 as a social or juridical order that enables every member of society to attain his or her fullest human development. Not only those individuals directly affected by the mining operations should benefit from them. The public at large can also share in the earnings of the mining enterprises. This can be made possible by the mining sector pledging to remit to the government the full and correct taxes, royalties, and fees required for the exploration, development, and use of the country’s mineral resources.

For its part, the DENR is committing to encourage investments in mineral processing by providing incentives and strategic support. One of the most serious complaints of those who want to invest in mining, especially foreigners, is the red tape involved in the process of evaluating and issuing mineral agreements. The DENR has pledged to streamline this process. Especially to be tackled are the inconsistencies of policies affecting the mining sector issued by different government agencies. The DENR has committed to develop parallel processing applications with other government agencies, and explore the possibility of honoring the free, prior, and informed consent initiated by indigenous people. The DENR also will take the initiative to craft mining project prospectus and guide investors on lands suitable for exploration.

Industry associations will play a major role in helping individual mining enterprises to engage in responsible mining. The two leading groups — the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines and the Philippine Nickel Industry Association — agreed to establish an ethics committee that will oversee the environmental, social, and governance performance of its players. In the spirit of cooperation, and not of confrontation, the DENR and the mining sector agreed to establish a joint monitoring and evaluation mechanism to determine the impact of mining operations on the environment and the socioeconomic conditions of affected communities.

In this regard, it would be necessary to accumulate and analyze data on the poverty incidence prevailing in specific mining communities instead of relying on the poverty data by province or region available from the Philippine Statistics Authority. The site-specific poverty incidence data should be monitored yearly to determine if the mining operations are actually contributing to reducing poverty in the immediate mining community. This will directly address the criticism of the anti-mining NGOs that the profits of mining enterprises just make the investors richer without lifting the mining communities from poverty.

There was also an agreement from the mining companies to the DENR’s proposal to assign personnel to every mining project who could help the firms comply with rules and regulations. Long-standing issues will be addressed by the DENR such as the levying of a fixed royalty rate for Indigenous Peoples (IPs) and inclusion of a mining representative in the Mining Industry Coordinating Council.

These measures, if properly and resolutely implemented, will go a long way to enable the Philippines, as well as the global economic community, to benefit from the country’s rich mineral resources whose exploitation are necessary for the fulfillment of the goals of Industrial Revolution 4.0. Such technologies as Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoS), Robotization and Data Analytics are highly dependent on the availability of the products of the mining sector, especially of copper and nickel that are indispensable for all the hardware needed for digitalization as well as for such renewable energy as solar and wind.

If we are to cite another social doctrine that can be derived from the New Testament, our inability to make use of our very rich mineral resources — because of our failure to arrive at a reasonable consensus — will be tantamount to literally “burying our talents” as described in the Parable of the Talents.

Bernardo M. Villegas has a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard, is professor emeritus at the University of Asia and the Pacific, and a visiting professor at the IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain. He was a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission.


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