Mining: Open For Business, Or So They Say
Richard Mills, Chairman
Just a year ago, no one would have imagined Philippines as the site for this year’s
Asia Pacific Mining Conference. But last week it happened, many of the most senior
mining leaders of Asia were brought together in Manila.
The country used to be one of the largest mineral producers in the world but years of
abuse has left the industry in tatters. There have been no new mines for the past 30
years – that is, until just the past few months.
A new mining law has made the industry in Philippines viable once again. According to the
government, Philippines is open for business. Politicians, judges and government officials were
present in large numbers to provide smiles and rosy assurances to the hundreds of foreign
delegates attending the annual conference.
Mining executives were not quite as optimistic as the politicians but the overall tone was certainly
positive and a big change from just one year ago. Understandably, the companies with the most
positive messages about Philippines were those experiencing the most success.
Andrew McIlawain, Chief Executive of Lafayette Mining, declared his company’s project as the
“first Greenfield development in 30 years.” Pouring of gold had already begun and full production
was said to be only another month or so away. John Ridsdel, Country Manager of TVI Pacific,
says his company is planning an expansion to increase its production.
Jim Askew, Chairman of Climax Mining, proudly announced that his company had been awarded
its permit to operate the day before and it would proceed with its large development plans for its
gold deposits. In addition, work would continue with its large exploration assets.
Tony Robbins, Managing Director of Indphil Resources, was similarly positive. He described his
company’s copper /gold deposits in Philippines as probably the 7 or 8 largest in the world.
Nick Sheard, VP of Exploration of Inco, also provided a riveting speech about his company’s
projects. Most of his presentation was focused on the Asia Pacific region but he expressed
pointed optimism about Philippines.
While there was much to be upbeat about, some people expressed cautious words about
operating in a country with a long history of antagonism toward mining.
Patrick Waters, the President of Anglo American Exploration Philippines, cited problems in many
areas. He says that while there is strong support at the national level of government, this rhetoric
is often not transferred to the local level. Local communities are often easily influenced by antimining
NGO’s and militant church leaders. Corruption and red tape is another hindrance, as is
gaining access to adjacent sites because of uncertain and sometimes arbitrary regulatory and
Well respected business consultant, Peter Wallace of the Wallace Business Forum, was similarly
guarded. The “new” mining law, he said, was originally passed in 1995. The supreme court held
it up for 9 years to determine whether it was constitutional or not. In addition to an
arbitrary judiciary, some of the other concerns he expressed included: vested interests, poor security and
He told the story of Placer Dome’s experience in Philippines some years ago as a message of the
risks avoided. The company held a minority stake in a project called Marcopper that had a nasty
spill. The company has since spent more than $70M for clean up work that has been described
by independent analysts as more than adequate. Today, Placer Dome is still reviled. The local
company that had majority control of the project has paid nothing.
Despite the concerns, Philippines is said to be “not much different” and “probably even better”
than many countries in Asia and Africa that already have more established mining sectors.
Indonesia, for instance, currently has foreign mining executives languishing in jail with no end in
Given the alternatives and the current sense of commitment by the government, it seems that the
Philippine mining industry will gradually continue to improve its position. That is, as long as there
are no changes.
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