Several large-scale metallic mining companies all over the country are ensuring that environmental conditions are sustained over the life of mine and beyond following The Mining Act of 1995. These companies – all members of the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines – are undertaking, among others, revegetation of mined out areas as part of their progressive rehabilitation initiatives, with the end in view of restoring, as near as possible, disturbed areas, to their original state or to a pre-agreed productive end-use.
Apart from forest trees, other appropriate tree and plant species are being planted to enhance biodiversity and encourage the return of wildlife to rehabilitated areas and to reforestation lands within and around mining permit areas. In the process, the large-scale mining industry has arguably become one of the country’s biggest contributors to the country’s reforestation efforts.
According to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), the mining industry has, as of May 2020, planted 37 million seedlings over 29,000 hectares, with a high survival rate of 92%.
Preceding the mining laws of the land
Benguet Corporation, established in 1903, had, in fact, started its progressive rehabilitation and reforestation program in the early 1920s – long before the passage of Commonwealth Act 137 of 1936, a law governing the conservation, disposition, and development of lands and minerals in the country. All told, the company has planted some 22 million trees on 20,000 hectares of land throughout its 118 years of mining operations.
For the period 2011-2021, BenguetCorp planted over 127,000 seedlings within the 81 hectares of reforestation area in Benguet District with an average survival rate of 83%. The seedlings planted are species of Benguet pine, coffee, rambutan, calliandra, bamboo, gmelina, achuete, and acacia mangium.
To provide additional income for its gracious indigenous peoples hosts, BenguetCorp contracted Ucab Indigenous Community Livelihood Association to plant Benguet pines within the 5 hectares area in Ucab, Itogon.
BenguetCorp’s nickel operations in Zambales, meanwhile, has, since 2009, planted about 2.49 million seedlings of acacia auriculioformis, mangium, agoho, kasoy, batino, bamboo, and mahogany inside its tenement of 1,406 hectares with 95% survival rate. With these trees planted in Sta. Cruz, Zambales, 49% of the population of the municipality have been freed carbon dioxide or had made carbon neutral.
85 years of protecting the environment
Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company (LCMC), which celebrated its 85th founding anniversary last September 21, for its part, has planted over 7 million trees in approximately 1,000 hectares of land over the firm’s eight decades of operation. These trees include Benguet pine seedlings donated by the company to host barangays and other neighboring municipalities in support of their local reforestation programs.
LCMC President and Chief Operating Officer Bryan Yap says “protecting the environment and the community have been the pillars of the company’s operations for 85 years”, which is why LCMC lasted this long. “Even before any of the regulations from the government were set,” he adds, “Lepanto has always put importance to the community and the preservation of the environment.”
“We commend Lepanto Mining for its efforts to comply with the requirements on environmental protection and enhancement programs, which includes rehabilitation of disturbed areas,” MGB-Cordillera Autonomous Region Regional Director Fay Apil says. “In fact, during the last rating period for Tenement Safety, Health, Environment and, Social audit, Lepanto Mining received a very satisfactory rating.”
Resiliency and initiative
Through resiliency and initiative, Philex Mining Corporation was able to implement its environmental protection targets for 2020 despite the pandemic. The company carried out reforestation projects, as well as care, maintenance, protection, and progressive rehabilitation activities to existing and previously established plantation areas and disturbed sites.
Philex established 50 hectares of new plantation sites within the municipalities of Tuba and Itogon, both also in Benguet. The company likewise carried out care, maintenance and protection in its existing 80-hectare plantations, and completed grass cutting over a 260,000 square-meter area. Philex environmental personnel conducted a series of foot patrols to protect the planted seedlings from trampling and grazing of free-range farm animals and to mitigate the possible occurrence of fire in the area.
Over 126,000 assorted seedlings were produced from the main and satellite nurseries. Some 960 assorted seedlings were donated to groups and private individuals to support their own environmental enhancement and livelihood activities. The company also assisted the members of the Philex Mines Multipurpose Cooperative in their environmental enhancement initiative to plant coffee seedlings at the decommissioned tailings storage facility in Itogon.
Also in 2020, Philex established a new 20-hectare reforestation project at its subsidence area in Tuba as well as established a bamboo nursery at its tailings storage facility, likewise in Itogon.
As of end-2020 Philex has planted a total of over 12.2 million trees over nearly 840 hectares of disturbed land and close to 4,500 hectares of reforested areas. Among the company’s six project areas, the Padcal Mine accounted for nearly 9.7 million total number of trees, followed by the Bulawan Project with about 1.4 million trees. Padcal’s survival rate for trees planted in its operations areas is pegged at close to 90%, and nearly 97% in exploration areas.
Baguio City environment officers have observed in Padcal’s reforestation areas the presence of several birds listed as priority species under the Biodiversity Management System. These birds include the tariktik hornbill, scale-feathered malkoha, white-eared brown fruit dove, Philippine kohal, Philippine bulbul, and cuckoo shrike.
Team of experts builds a forest
The display of vigorous flora and fauna in the forest of Hinatuan Mining Corp. (HMC) – showcasing a natural process of how biodiversity returns to a mined-out area – is the highest tribute to the company’s sound rehabilitation program. Already, HMC, a subsidiary of Nickel Asia Corp., has registered more than 300 hectares of rehabilitated mined-out areas.
HMC’s knowledge on rehabilitation is shown by the return of botanical species, initially cleared at the beginning of mining operations, to the rehabilitated areas complete with evidence of new native species. But to achieve a superior rehabilitation recovery rate, HMC had to develop a range of innovative techniques, which include an efficient nursery program; the use of non-chemical, originally concocted, all-natural, soil conditioners; and, most importantly, employing a dedicated team of experts.
A study was performed prior to active mine operations to understand the dynamic and state of the environment in the area. “It is critical to know how to effectively ameliorate the soil in order to rebuild the forest after mining has disturbed the biodiversity in the area, that’s why baselining is critical, we need a complete picture of the ‘before and after’ of the soil, what nutrients were lost, and what needed to be put back as intervention,” Jemmafie Ebora, HMC soil specialist, explains.
For HMC mine rehabilitation officer Miguel Loremia III, one of the challenges in building a forest in a mined-out area is the contouring of the land: “It’s like building a community, you fix the roads, you stabilize the slopes through vegetation and re-greening and you build an efficient drainage system that will help grow the plants and protect the forest from soil erosion,” he explains.
HMC’s marine biologist Jusua dela Peña, meanwhile, can often be found at the Lipata Cove in Hinatuan island, where HMC has its nursery for mangroves propagules. He would have with him members of the community who help prepare these ‘seedlings’ for the beach forests.
As part of its re-greening program and rehabilitation, HMC is proud of its beach forests that beautify and shield the mining community’s coastlines and defend its marine life. De la Peña works closely with the entire Environment team; his job includes monitoring the health and safety of the underwater gardens and the forest along the shorelines.
Forester Earl John Gascon, for his part, says success means the return of the insects and wildlife in the rehabilitated area. He designs and manages HMC’s eco-parks, experimenting on anything beautiful and beneficial that can grow in the mine’s lateritic soil. The challenge for him as a forester is real but it’s always the natural way of farming for HMC.
“We get excited by sightings of wild life and indigenous flora, especially those we didn’t plant or we didn’t grow, because it means the natural process of returned biodiversity in a forest, once disrupted by mining,” Gascon says.
What is evident in HMC is that throughout the entire life of the mine the state of the environment gets highest priority. The extent of regeneration and rehabilitation at HMC is something any environmentalist can be truly proud of.
Sharing environmental responsibility
Significant progress in the reforestation efforts of Carmen Copper Corporation (CCC), a subsidiary of Atlas Mining & Development Corporation, was made possible because of the relentless support of its partner communities. CCC launched its Community-Based Reforestation Project, which saw the Toledo City-based company tapping eight people’s organization (POs) to jointly grow trees from seedling production up to planting more than 285,000 seedlings of acacia auriculiformis or that will cover 100 hectares of mined-out areas.
Among the POs that are now slowly reaping the fruits of their labor as CCC’s partners are the members of Barangay Bagakay Farmers’ Association (BFA) whose members are among the 3,500 farmers engaged in cooperatives and associations supported by the company since 2015. Through the company’s Social Development and Management Program, these farmers were able to produce 342,000 kilos of produce worth P4.08 million over the past five years.
Because of the reforestation project, BFA members are not just farming but now also producing and selling rags as well. From this endeavor, the group was able to purchase sewing machines, opening another door towards sustainable livelihood.
Lucia Racoma, BFA President, said Carmen Copper’s project came at an opportune time as many of their community members lost their jobs due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “We are very grateful to Carmen Copper for giving us an opportunity to have an extra source of income, especially during this pandemic,” she says. “It also gave us a chance to help protect our environment.”
A year since starting their rag-making enterprise, Racoma says they now have patrons in Toledo City and even in as far as Taboan Public Market in Cebu City. She says they can make some 3,000 pieces of rags daily using only one sewing machine. They are optimistic they can increase their production with the addition of more sewing machines.
To date, CCC has reforested nearly 1,600 hectares of land, which serves as home to at least 81 species of trees and plants and 31 species of birds and bats. To date, close to 80,000 native saplings and over 75,000 fruit-bearing tree seedlings have grown, while there remain 50 hectares of undisturbed woodlands.
As part of its biodiversity protection and preservation initiative, CCC is coordinating with a leading university research group in conducting a biodiversity assessment. This study will form the company’s new and updated baseline for future monitoring of biodiversity.
Mining Forest Program
Since 2007, FCF Minerals Corporation, through its Mine Environmental Protection and Enhancement Office, has been actively implementing the Mining Forest Program (MFP), which mandates all mining companies to establish mining forests through reforestation within their contract areas. FCF also actively participated in the National Greening Program (NGP) launched by the government in 2011 in an effort to regain 1.5 million hectares of forestlands.
Under its reforestation efforts under MFP and NGP, FCF has planted and donated nearly 3.4 million seedlings in over 2,000 hectares within and outside the company’s mine area in Runruno, Quezon, Nueva Vizcaya. The company maintains a central nursery with a capacity of 300,000 seedlings.
FCF prides itself with using of biological engineering and approaches for the rehabilitation of denuded, sparsely vegetated, and mined out areas, as well as protecting watershed areas to ensure adequate water supply to upland and downstream communities through rain forestation and assisted natural regeneration.
The company also encourages the “bayanihan spirit” or social volunteerism among communities, even as it creates sustainable income-generation through employment of affected stakeholders. Moreover, FCF supports research and development for innovations and for ensuring the success of the program.
Four-component rehabilitation program
For its part, Eramen Minerals Inc.’s (EMI) progressive rehabilitation program has four components: reforestation, agroforestry, buffer zone management, and landscaping. Just last August, EMI completed the planting of trees in 57 hectares of land identified for reforestation – portions of the contract area disturbed by mining operations, as well as those devoid of trees or understocked, and savannah – thus bringing the company’s total hectarage for this component to over 154 hectares since 2012.
The company also completed its rehabilitation activities in a total of 12.4 hectares of agroforestry and landscaping areas. In addition, EMI developed and enhanced a 5-kilometer stretch of its contract area buffer zone covering some 9 hectares for ecological development.
EMI used fast-growing species only for conditioning of its reforestation area to improve the micro-climate, particularly moisture and temperature, and to invite micro-organisms, small invertebrates, and vertebrates. In areas assessed to have the capability to grow endemic species, EMI used species readily available within the tenement. In due time, indigenous and endemic species of trees will be transplanted, and scientific treatments will be applied to limit the proliferation of fast-growing species and to prevent detrimental effects on desired plant species.
EMI stakeholders who have toured the mine were impressed with what they saw. For instance, according to Marites Tabuco, a Sangguniang Bayan member of Sta. Cruz, the company’s host town in Zambales, “I can say that Eramen follows the law governing mining. I was happy when I saw mined out areas that have been planted with trees and other plant species, which are important to prevent soil erosion. I hope the company can maintain its good practices.
The company has, since 2012, planted nearly 43,000 wildling, fruit trees, and bamboo for its rehabilitation program’s reforestation, agroforestry, and buffer zone components, as well as 4,300 ornamental plants for landscaping. EMI also planted 1,500 bamboo under the National Greening Program. To further enhance and remediate the area subjected to progressive rehabilitation, more than 19.5 million cover crops were used in 2021 alone, employing different methods regreening, such as planting, sodding, broadcasting, and sprigging around the site.
Traces of wildlife presence have been found in rehabilitated areas, such as molting of the Philippine cobra; paw prints of wild cats, wild boar, deer, among others; feathers of wild chicken, band rail, needle tail, cockatoo, kulasisi, among others. The presence of animals, such as Brahminy kite, crow, monitor lizard, dahong palay, balinsasayaw, and oriole, as well as other known and unknown species of herbs and avifaunal species have also been observed in these areas.
The two firms of the Masbate Gold Project – Filminera Resources Corporation and Phil. Gold Processing & Refining Corp. – received four awards in the recent 2020 Presidential Mineral Industry Environmental Awards (PMIEA), in the Best Mining Forest and Safest Mine categories. The PMIEAs are given to mining companies who exhibit best practices in safety and health management, environmental protection and community development.
Filminera is the recipient of the PMIEA Selection Committee Platinum Achievement Award in Surface Mining Operation Category, the Titanium Achievement Award, Mineral Exploration Category and the winner of the Safest Mineral Exploration – A Category. Phil. Gold, on the other hand, received the PMIEA Selection Committee Titanium Achievement Award in the Mineral Processing Category.
Both companies have active programs geared towards the conservation of nature, biological diversity and integrated approaches to land use planning. As a result of these upland and coastal reforestation efforts, the reforested and rehabilitated areas are now home to a diverse range of flora and fauna species. Aside from enhancing biodiversity through their environmental programs, the firms have also spurred social development in the surrounding communities through various livelihood programs.
Reversing decades of abuse by illegal small-scale miners
Prior to the entry of TVI Resource Development Phils., Inc. (TVIRD) in Balabag, the Dipili River in this town was laden with toxic waste from chemicals, including mercury, which were discarded by illegal small-scale miners. In addition, human waste from hundreds of workers and their families were also thrown there, leaving a dead river. Unabated illegal tree-cutting denuded Balabag Hill and destroyed the natural habitat of wild animals in the area.
Illegal artisanal mining was the livelihood of many people in this town from the early ‘90s. People from neighboring towns in Zamboanga de Sur and other Mindanao provinces came in droves to join the gold rush in Balabag – literally “making a killing” (of the environment) in the process.
This wanton activity only came to a halt in 2012 when the government issued and implemented a Cease and Desist Order and completely dismantled the illegal facilities. Since then, TVIRD has been rehabilitating Balabag’s dying natural environment. Trees and cover crops were planted, the quality of the water was regularly monitored, and toxic waste from hundreds of shallow tailings ponds were also taken out. Clean-up activities also included the Genaro Creek.
In her report of July 2021, TVIRD environment manager Agnes Goze says the company has already planted more than 160,000 trees within and around its 4,779-hectare tenement area. Of this number, more than five hectares are already fully rehabilitated.
Forester Edward Vincent Borres says all rehabilitated areas were initially planted with cover crops to follow plant succession and for soil stabilization. In the rehabilitated areas, various plant species like Vetiver, Mani-Mani, and Setera total almost 300,000.
To mitigate the siltation from ongoing earthworks, TVIRD’s environmental crew constructed several silt ponds at Genaro and Onao-Onao Creeks. Water quality monitoring is also performed daily in both creeks, including Dipili River itself.
“We still have a long way to go,” says community relations officer Lope Dizon. “We have programs and projects that aim to restore the environment. And we have the full support of the Subanen indigenous people and the town’s local government unit.”
Supporting government’s bamboo industry development program
During a recent webinar organized by the Philippine Bamboo Industry Development Council, Chamber of Mines of the Philippines chairman Gerard Brimo reiterated the industry association’s support for the development of the local bamboo industry.
“While mining in the Philippines has a very small footprint, it is in a unique position to contribute to the government’s Bamboo Plantation Program,” Brimo said. “Bamboo is an ideal grass specie for eco-rejuvenation of mined out areas as part of a comprehensive mine rehabilitation plan that includes other plant and tree species. Environment experts maintain that the inclusion of bamboo in biodiversity development on mined out land is a sustainable solution for climate change mitigation; it is effective in ecosystem restoration or the re-establishment of the capability of the land to capture and retain its fundamental resources.
“An ecosystem development model should take into consideration the influencing factors to ensure its success. Apart from environmental value, the model should also consider the socio-economic benefits of eco-rejuvenation – something that bamboo has plenty to offer in terms of livelihood opportunities for residents of mining communities,” he added.
“As such, we are committed to involving and harnessing our gracious host communities in the development of bamboo plantations within and around our mined out areas. It is our hope that this will promote a sense of ownership among our hosts so that they will enjoy continued benefits from the land long after the life of mine,” Brimo said.
Out of the total 4,368.24 hectares committed by the mining industry for the establishment of bamboo plantations, 1,170 hectares are from the Chamber’s 22 operating members nationwide.
“We expect the hectarage of land devoted to bamboo plantations to grow in the coming years once new mining projects begin operations following the issuance of EO 130 and even exponentially so if the ban on open pit mining is lifted,” concluded Brimo.