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Experts weigh in on how to rehabilitate legacy mines across the Philippines

29 November 2019, Makati City – On the issue of Philippine mines, President Rodrigo Duterte once said “Explain to me and explain it well… what happened here? Explain to us, to the lawmakers such degradation. Look at the water. So where’s the fish, where’s the marine life? Ano kakainin ng mga tao, yung mga mahihirap lang dito [What would the poor people here eat]? So what can your ₱70B do for the government? Nothing.” Duterte said the ₱70B in revenues that the Philippine mining industry brought in was meaningless if the result was such deterioration.1

Two years in, we are still on this conversation. The only difference now is that the industry is swiftly re-aligning itself with what the President seeks for his country and his countrymen – the protection of the environment and quality of life for all. 

On November 29 2019 at Makati City, the Philippine Mining Club introduced three key speakers who are helping address this dilemma: Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) Chief for Mine Safety, Environment and Social Development Engr. Rodolfo Velasco Jr., GHD’s Technical Director for Tailings and Mine rehabilitation Engr. Robert Longey and the Bamboo Initiative’s lead and the OLLI Consulting Group’s CEO, Atty. Leo Dominguez. 

The Philippines’ abandoned and inactive mines

Abandoned mines refer to mines with no valid/existing mining tenement, and no/incomplete rehabilitation was done. While inactive mines refer to mines with a pending application for renewal and with valid/existing mining tenement but temporarily stopped operation, or is under the care and maintenance due to operational constraints (voluntary stoppage) and suspension (involuntary stoppage) of operation.2 

Based on MGB’s 2019 list, there are approximately 10 abandoned mines in the Philippines. These are Philex Mining Corp., Western Minolco Mining Co., Black Mountain, Inc., Benguet Exploration, Inc., Silica Sand Mines, Palawan Quicksilver Mines, Inc., Romblon Marble Mines, Benguet Consolidated, Inc., Unidos Mining Corp., and Zambales Base Metals, Inc.

Velasco mentioned that MGB has, in place, a Mine Rehabilitation Program Roadmap for 2019-2022. MGB seeks to implement the Environmental Management Plans for all abandoned mines which is in line with the long term vision of Philippine President to transform abandoned mines and mined-out areas into land use that is beneficial both to the communities and the environment. Coincidently, Velasco mentioned that November 29 is also the 121st Anniversary of MGB.

What the Philippines can learn from Australia’s legacy mines

According to fellow speaker, Australian Rob Longey, abandoned mines are a ‘black mark’ in the industry. He says that “abandoned mines are a legacy we need to deal with appropriately to ensure communities have the confidence to allow new mines to develop and continue operating.” Apparently, Australia itself has over 50,000 legacy mines! Twenty five percent of which were planned closures, while the remaining seventy five percent were unplanned or prematurely closed. This has resulted in unsatisfactory closures, long term care and maintenance of these mines. However, the opportunity presenting itself here is that Australia is in the perfect position to become a world leader for mine rehabilitation and closure, which could be replicated by countries such as the Philippines.

Australia has its own challenges with legacy mines. But how is Australia’s situation relevant to the Philippines? Similar to the Philippines’ small scale mining, Australia has more than 100 years of historical mining. With a similar climate like the Philippines (high rainfall, tropical climate, steep terrain), Australia admittedly also has poor environmental practices in the past. And lastly, Australian mines closed down due to the communities surrounding the mine and its sensitive environments.

Longey sees that mine repurposing – reprocessing are such opportunities for the industry. He noted that partial infrastructure could be made available (roads, plant, dam, pits); industry collaboration; technology transfer; commercial incentives for communities to help clean up legacy mines; opportunity to move tailings from the surface to the pit; while also building new dams to modern standards. A good example is repurposing a legacy mine into a tourist hub through rehabilitation. He says that sites with high concentration of metals and minerals (arsenic, cobalt, copper, manganese, nickel, selenium, thallium and zinc) provide a great opportunity for future commercial application such as mineralized soils, crops and other novel approaches. One such approach is the OLLI Consulting Group’s ‘Bamboo Initiative’. 

The real question to be answered here is ‘can the post closure become a self sustaining asset?’ According to Longey, “given the right approach and strategy, yes it can be”. 

A Nationwide Movement

Dominguez, the proponent for the Bamboo Initiative, presents his case categorically “By working efficiently together under this Bamboo Initiative, the mining companies will be able to revegetate their mined out areas as quickly as the President has directed them to do”. 

“The mining companies would contribute much needed hectarage to the DTI to increase bamboo production, thereby boosting supply of raw material and manpower from the mining communities to grow the bamboo industry”.

“Agencies like the DENR would be in a much better position to deliver the commitment of the country to plant 1M hectares of bamboo addressing climate change”.

“Under the DENR and the DTI, the mining industry could develop truly sustainable livelihood and enterprises for the mining communities, thereby delivering on the demand by the President that not only should mining companies pay taxes but also show what they are doing for the country and its people, while reinventing mining as a social enterprise.”

Admittedly, the industry still has a long way to go. However, with a nationwide movement like the ‘Bamboo Initiative’, a fast, safe and effective means to revegetate and rehabilitate mine sites across the country is slowly changing the conversation on mining.

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Experts weigh in on how to rehabilitate legacy mines across the Philippines at 53rd Philippine Mining Luncheon. 
(L-R)  Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) Chief for Mine Safety, Environment and Social Development Engr. Rodolfo Velasco Jr., Bamboo Initiative’s lead and the OLLI Consulting Group’s CEO, Atty. Leo Dominguez and GHD’s Technical Director for Tailings and Mine rehabilitation Engr. Robert Longey. 

Coverage by Maria Paula Tolentino

References:

1 CNN Philippines. ‘Duterte considering total mining ban’. 14 March 2017.

2 Mines & Geosciences Bureau Philippine Mining Luncheon Presentation. 29 November 2019. Engr. Rodolfo Velasco Jr. 

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