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Top 4 of 5 Philippine presidential candidates open to more responsible mining in the country


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Top 4 of 5 Philippine presidential candidates open to more responsible mining in the country

Whilethe Philippines is said to sit atop some of the world's largest mineral reserves,the country's mining sector remains muted, held back by red tape and civil societyopposition, among others.

Out of the country's 328 mines, only 156 are active, accordingto SNL Metals & Mining data. The largest active mine in the country is 's copper project inSouth Cotabato, with an estimated in-situ value of US$107.32 billion. This is followedby Gold Fields Ltd.'sFar Southeast goldmine in Benguet at US$48.16 billion and St.Augustine Gold & Copper Ltd.'s Kingking copper-gold project in Compostela Valley at US$30.08billion.

The outgoing administration regards the industry as one of thesupposed "drivers of Philippine economic growth." President Benigno AquinoIII signed Executive Order No. 79 in 2012, with a view to increase government revenuesfrom mining, improve environmental standards, and reconcile national and mininglaws.

The signing of Executive Order No. 79 is also the first stepin complying with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, a global transparencystandard to improve governance of natural resources. In 2015, the Philippines wasaccepted as a candidate to join the EITI. However, the Philippines' mining sectorcontinues to be closed to new investors as two bills relating to governance overthe industry are yet to be finalized — House Bill No. 5367 and House Bill No. 5058.

While House Bill 5058 proposes to banthe export of unprocessed minerals from the country, House Bill No. 5367 is beingpassed — in accordance with Executive Order No. 79 — to lift a moratorium on newmining permits that has been in place since 2011 and to raise the government's sharein the sector's revenues and economic benefits.

Withthe May 9 national elections approaching, the 16th president of the Philippineswill shape the development of the mining industry in the country for the next sixyears.

Front-runnerDavao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly said he does not allow mining inhis city, with the city council officially passing the mining ban resolution in2015, despite being in conflict with national laws.

However,Duterte told a business audience during a forum held in February that he would supportmining in the country as long as it adheres to the strictest environmental standardssuch as that of Australia.

The mayorremained firm in banning mining firms with records of exploitation and vowed tocarefully study calls to scrap Republic Act 7942 or the Mining Act of 1995, whichliberalized the mining sector in the country.

Meanwhile,the Aquino-endorsed Manuel Roxas II said he is open to more mining companies enteringthe Philippines, noting that the country's laws allow mining provided that it isaccepted by the local community and is environmentally compliant.

Even prior to running for presidency, Senator Grace Poe-Llamanzareshas been vocal about supporting responsible mining, urging the Chamber of Minesin 2014 to push for environmentally sound mining practices and to ensure that gainsfrom extracting the minerals translate to sustainable wealth in the communitiesthe miners operate in.

Poe-Llamanzaresis battling for transparency in the industry, advocating for the full disclosureof mining contracts and asking miners to publish their contributions in terms oftaxes, jobs generated, livelihood and corporate social responsibility projects.

But whenasked about the approval of new mining contracts in the last presidential debateheld April 24, the senator only stressed the need to review the compliance of operatingmines and to study whether a community needs the mining business.

"Ifthere are other jobs available, why would we need to issue a permit?" Poe-Llamanzaressaid.

Likewise,Vice President Jejomar Binay vowed to support responsible mining and outlaw irresponsiblemining practices.

Despiteits potential to be the largest contributor to the Philippine economy, the miningindustry is currently "in limbo" under the current administration, accordingto Binay. It remains in the "doldrums and subjected to touch-and-go policiesand the whim of authorities with regulatory capture over the industry," thevice president said.

He addedthat mining was excluded in the government's investment priorities in 2012, whichremoved all incentives to investments except those provided by the Mining Act andNational Internal Revenue Code.

Shouldhe win the presidency, Binay is looking to raise mining taxes, but stressed thatthey should remain fair and consistent with international standards.

Finallyand unlike the rest of the presidential candidates, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiagomade it clear that she is against the entry of more mining firms in the Philippines,saying there are already too many mining companies in the country.

A PulseAsia survey released May 4 tagged Duterte the top presidential bet with a 33% rating.Roxas and Poe-Llamanzares are statistically tied at No. 2 with 22% and 21%, respectively.Binay followed at 17%, while Defensor-Santiago scored 2%.