BAGUIO CITY – When a person is asked to describe Cordillera, what sort of images readily come to mind? Perhaps one would say that the first thing he sees are the mountain ranges covered with thick green vegetation. Another would probably note of the men who wear the bahag or g-string and the women dressed in colorful weaved clothing. Others might also add sacred rituals, traditional practices, and festivals to the list of things that remind them of the mountainous region.
The Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) is located in the north central portion of Luzon. It is composed of six provinces namely Abra, Apayao, Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga, and Mountain Province, and the chartered city of Baguio. Towering peaks, plateaus, and intermittent patches of valleys define the physical traits of the region. Moreover, it is home to many indigenous peoples (IPs) who live a certain way and speak different languages. Truly, it is the breathtaking landscape and the distinct culture of the people in the region that are most recognizable.
A characteristic, however, of Cordillera unbeknownst to some is that it is rich in mineral reserves and that mining is a century-old source of livelihood for the people in the region. It was during the late 1950s when large-scale mining was welcomed by indigenous communities in the hope that it would bring them sustainable development, economic prosperity, and access to social services. Indeed, to some extent, mining has delivered to them life’s necessities.
“One of the advantages of mining in Cordillera is livelihood for the IPs. Second, is (the improvement of the) local economy. If we compare the situations now where mining companies are, previously these were 5th or 4th class municipalities, but now they have become 2nd or 1st class municipalities because of mining,” said Engr. Brent Pagteilan of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau- Cordillera Administrative Region (MGB-CAR), citing Tuba and Itogon as examples.
At present, four companies are still engaged in large-scale mining operations, namely Philex Mining Corporation, Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company, Itogon Suyoc Resources, Inc., and Benguet Corporation. The two main mineral resources which can be extracted from the mines here are copper and gold, while silver comes as a secondary product. Other resources which can be obtained include non-metallic minerals, quicklime, slaked lime, limestone, and sand and gravel.
In their year-end report, MGB-CAR emphasized that while the mineral industry ended 2017 with a continuing challenge, such challenges will be met with a breed of resiliency among its stakeholders. Overall, volatile global economic growth and lower demand affected the region’s metallic production causing decrease by an average of seven percent for the mineral production of silver and gold. Consequently, the value also decreased by more than 10%.
The volume of gold production decreased by almost 17%. Its corresponding value also went down by 13%. On the other hand, silver production increased by two percent. Its value dramatically increased by more than 100%. Copper concentrate production decreased by 10%. Despite the decrease in production, its value, however, still increased by 23%. Non-metallic mineral production increased by almost 50%, and its production value in pesos increased by more than 170%. Production of quicklime increased by one percent; its value decreased by less than one percent. Slaked lime production decreased by 98%. Its value, however, increased by 70%. Limestone production was recorded for this year at 10, 573 with a corresponding value of four million pesos. Production of sand and gravel recorded an increase of almost 50%; its corresponding value pegged an increase of more than 250%.
The report also showed that the export of minerals from the region decreased for gold and an increased for silver. Gold export recorded a decrease of almost three percent. Silver registered an increase of almost three percent. On the other hand, local sales of metallic minerals increased by 11%.
In terms of employment, direct jobs from the mining industry decreased by 13%. Also, it is conservatively projected that for every basic job in the mines, about four ancillary/indirect jobs may be generated in upstream and downstream sectors.
When asked about the environmental impacts and regulation of mining in Cordillera, Engr. Pagteilan said that not much has changed in landscape of the host and neighboring communities since most operations happen underground. He added that, “There is a constant monitoring, and before the company can continue their operations, their work programs have to be evaluated and approved before its implementation, and their abidance to the environmental and mining laws.”
As for the projected large-scale mine closure of the Philex Mining Company in 2022, Engr. Pagteilan answered, “That is the timeline as of now, but they are conducting exploration works adjacent to the present area for extension. But if they couldn’t really find any, then probably, as a large-scale, it will close. But there are areas where small-scale mining can be conducted because it is more economical to mine through small-scale.”
“There is what we call the Social Development and Management Program (SDMP) which is being implemented today to assist the community so that when the mining operations cease and desist, the community will still be lively and not a ghost community. Also, the companies must implement their final rehabilitation programs depending on the projects, programs, and activities they have planned together with the community. The final mine rehabilitation must be planned not by the company alone but by the presence of the community,” explained Engr. Pagteilan.
The total amount committed by mining companies in the region for the development of their host and neighboring communities through the approved SDMP is P220 million. SDMP refers to the comprehensive five-year plan of the contractor authorized to conduct actual mining and milling operations towards the sustained improvement in the living standards of the host and communities in a manner consistent with the principle of people empowerment.
Meanwhile, P17 million has been committed by companies with exploration permit for the Community Development Plan (CDP), a two-year plan of the contractor for the development programs of the host community.
Further, the total amount committed for the implementation of approved plans/programs/projects/activities under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Program (EPEP) is P712 million. EPEP refers to the comprehensive and strategic environmental management objectives, criteria and commitments including protection and rehabilitation of disturbed environment.
When asked whether mining has impacted the lives of the IPs for the better or otherwise, Engr. Pagteilan said, “In general, I think it is better for the IPs. It improved the lives. Almost all of the children and siblings of the miners graduated because of mining. Free education from elementary, not only now wherein the government is saying that education is free from elementary to college, but even before, when you had to pay.” He also mentioned that every mining company has its own educational system and educational facility such as that of Philex and Lepanto.
“It (mining) will thrive, particularly with the present law or what we call “free prior and informed consent”. Unlike before, if the company is given the permit, they can go immediately and start mining. But with the present mining law, wherein the consent of the IPs must be taken first before undergoing such mining activities, at least, they can arrive at win-win solutions,” he added.
By Jeromy Verayo
Banner photo by: Joseph B, Manzano