SPEAKER Pantaleon Alvarez has filed a bill seeking to require legislative franchise for all mining operations in the country to ensure the industry would not only provide bigger contribution to our economy and national development but also observe all laws for the protection of the environment.
In filing House Bill No. 6259 Alvarez noted that the Philippines is among the top five countries in the world in terms of minerals, with an estimated value of $1.4 trillion. In 2009-2014 some P650 billion worth of minerals were extracted in the country.
However, Alvarez noted that the mining industry is among the least contributors to the country’s wealth, which only peaked at 1.63% in 2007. The present mining companies are not performing at par with the potential of the industry.
The challenge, according to Alvarez, is for the government to ensure the proceeds of the mining industry translate into sustainable development, environmental protection, and greater transparency and accountability in the industry.
“By requiring mining firms to acquire a legislative franchise, the people, through their elected representatives, would be able to scrutinize the applicants, their capability and track record, in order to make sure that only responsible mining firms are allowed to operate in the country,” Alvarez said.
Under the bill, all private contractors must first secure a legislative franchise as a prerequisite before they could apply for an exploration permit, mineral agreement under Section 26 of Republic Act 7942, or financial and/or technical assistance agreements.
Private contractors presently holding explorations permits, mineral agreements, and financial and/or technical assistance agreements are given one year from the time the law takes effect to secure a legislative franchise, otherwise their permits shall expire.
Likewise, the bill requires that “the terms and condition of said permits and agreements are considered public information” and as such “any clause or provision providing for confidentiality of the contents, especially the financial terms and conditions are null and void.”
Alvarez said the mining industry can contribute more to the government in terms of providing the latter its fair share in the revenue generated but this can only be achieved in an atmosphere of transparency which facilitates accountability.
“Unfortunately, there have been reports that permits and agreements have confidentiality clauses which preclude watchdogs from examining the arrangements entered into by the government with the mining firms,” he pointed out.
To ensure greater protection of the environment, the bill includes watersheds and critical watersheds among areas where mining is banned.
Public officers and employees found guilty of facilitating approval of mining permits in such protected areas will suffer a penalty consisting of 6-12 years in jail and a fine of P2 million per violation, as well as perpetual disqualification from public office.
The same penalty is imposed on a private person who conspired with the public employee.
In addition, the bill requires private contractors to fully rehabilitate the areas they used for mining and restore the environmental and ecological balance of the area within 10 years from the expiration of their permits.
Failure to do so would mean a penalty of P100 million per hectare that has not been rehabilitated.
The bill also requires that all mineral ores extracted within the Philippines should be processed here in the country and in the province from where they were extracted. It likewise bans export of unprocessed mineral ores to help develop the mineral processing industry in the Philippines and to benefit the localities where the minerals came from.
Anybody found guilty of illegally exporting or attempting to export raw mineral ores faces the penalty of 6-12 years imprisonment and a fine amounting to three times the value of the seized unprocessed mineral, or not lower than P1 million.
Alvarez noted that one of the reasons pointed out for the insignificant contribution of the mining industry to the country’s economy is that mineral ores in the country, after being mined or extracted, while still unprocessed, are already exported directly to foreign countries as raw materials.
“The challenge for government is to ensure proceeds translate into sustainable development, environmental protection, and greater transparency and accountability in the mining industry,” Alvarez said.
The bill has secured bipartisan support in the House of Representatives and lists as its co-authors Majority Floor Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, Minority Leader Danilo Suarez and other lawmakers, including Frederick Abueg, Ferdinand Hernandez, Romeo Quimbo, Raneo Abu, Joel Almario, Abdullah Dimaporo, Raul Daza, Ronaldo Zamora, Manuel Dalipe, Juliet Ferrer, Arnolfo Teves, Jr., Emmanuel Billones, Erlpe John Amante, Luis Campos, Jr., Jose Atienza, Jr., Allen Mangaoang, Arnel Ty, Johnny Pimentel, and Luis Raymond Villafuerte, Jr.