Philippine miners commit to environmental code

As part of efforts to claw back public confidence in the mining industry in the Philippines, twenty-two major mining companies have signed a 'code of conduct for the environment', reports Asia Environmental Review (ASER).

Key elements of the code include a requirement to implement an environmental management system and to consult closely with local communities on their environmental and social performance.
Signatories must also submit an annual report on compliance with the code to the Environment Committee of the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines. Those companies that have already signed the code include Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company – the biggest mining company in the Philippines – as well as major mining multinationals such as Rio Tinto and WMC Philippines Incorporated. Other signatories include Marcopper Mining Co. and Placer Philippines Exploration.

The Philippines has massive deposits of metallic minerals. In terms of prospectivity, it is ranked third in the world for gold, fourth in the world for copper, fifth for nickel ore and sixth for chrome. However, surging international interest in mining in the Philippines almost came to a halt about three years ago.
This was partly because of increased public opposition to mining following the notorious collapse of the tailings dam system at the Marcopper mine on Marinduque Island. The collapse released more than one and a half million cubic metres of tailings waste into the Boac River, severely damaging the downstream environment and destroying the livelihood of many people living downstream of the mine.

The new code requires signatories to:

  • Implement a comprehensive environmental training programme for employees and contractors;
  • Consult with the community on matters that affect their health, safety, property and livelihood;
  • Integrate risk assessment and management into every facet and stage of operations;
  • Consult with the community on the outputs of risk studies including the risk management plan;
  • “Immediately respond” to social or environmental issues which may be raised against the company;
  • Provide stakeholder feedback mechanisms on environmental and social performance;
  • Incorporate plans for rehabilitation and decommissioning into the project feasibility study;
  • Implement progressive rehabilitation programs.

The extent to which the code will help to reduce public concern about mining remains to be seen. One issue that remains somewhat unclear is whether or not the annual reports made to the Chamber’s environment committee will be publicly available. There is no indication in the code that this will be the case.
However, Terry Gardiner of WMC told ASER that WMC would work on the assumption that its report would be publicly available as it was committed to public environmental reporting. And according to Nelia Halcon, executive vice president with the Chamber of Mines, the reports will go into a database that would be publicly accessible.

Marcopper incident

The Marcopper incident was a defining moment for international mining company Placer Dome. Now called Placer Dome Asia Pacific, the company was a 40% joint-venture partner in the mine and is paying the entire multi-million dollar reclamation bill. According to Gavin Murray, Placer’s vice-president, sustainability leadership, the tailings collapse “shook Placer Dome to its core, with employees questioning management’s rhetoric and commitment”.

The company has two mines in Papua New Guinea and is exploring for new resources in the Philippines, India and China, as well as managing the legacy of the Marcopper incident.
It issued its first sustainability policy in February last year. The policy includes a corporate commitment to ethical conduct, to integrate sustainability as an essential element in the duties of all employees and to encourage the adoption of sustainability principles by joint-venture partners.
Each of the company’s mines is now also developing a stakeholder engagement strategy. The Porgera mine in PNG will be one of two Placer operations issuing a ‘triple bottom line’ report on its social, environmental and economic performance for the calendar year 1998, and all Placer mines will be reporting publicly within five years.

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