Catholic Church calls on new Philippines president to scrap mining law

21 July 2010 | 04:56 Code : 20099 Geoscience events
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The Catholic Church in the Philippines, a powerful political and social force...

The Catholic Church in the Philippines, a powerful political and social force, has called on new President Benigno Aquino III to scrap a law that allows foreign investors to fully own local mining ventures.The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), in letter signed by Bishop Nerio Odchimar and released on Friday, said natural resources should be used for Filipinos.Aquino, who took office on June 30, has supported the Mining Act, saying foreign investment was essential to develop local industry, create jobs and lift the economy’s growth rate. The country’s mineral deposits are estimated to be worth $1 trillion."We are calling for the abrogation of the Mining Act of 1995 that do not adequately protect the interest of our people and the country’s natural resources," Odchimar wrote."Furthermore, we call for a review of all anomalous and controversial mining contracts," he said, asking Aquino to make public all existing mining contracts and applications.The letter was released just over two weeks after the governor of South Cotabato, in her final days in office, banned open-pit mining in the province, putting at risk a $5.2 billion gold-copper prospect operated by Xstrata Plc (XTA.L).Aquino has said he wanted to find a compromise solution."There is a need to develop this (mining industry) in a sustainable manner and allow extractive industries to contribute to poverty alleviation by strengthening the environmental and social components of government interventions in this sector," presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.The Church’s social and political pronouncements carry a lot of weight in the Philippines, where more than 80 percent of the Philippines’ 90 million-plus population is Catholic.The Church has supported the peaceful overthrow of two presidents, Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and Joseph Estrada in 2001, and influences social policies such as sex education and population planning.Foreign investment in mining was capped until the 1995 law, which was intended to revive a moribund sector after several accidents in the 1970s that wreaked havoc on the environment.Global miner BHP Billiton (BHP.AX) (BLT.L) was one of the few foreign firms to enter the sector, but later pulled out from its nickel project partly due to differences with its local partner.Australia’s Lafayette, which owned the first foreign-led mining venture after the 1995 law, sold its stake in a polymetallic project after cyanide spills at its mine triggered a backlash from the Catholic bishops and environmental activists.More broadly, foreign investment in the Philippines remains hampered by concerns about corruption, governance and security risks from insurgencies.Foreign direct investment in April was $85 million, down 86 percent from a year earlier, and year-to-date investment was about half of the first four months of 2009, central bank data showed. [ID:nSGE66B0A6] (Reporting by Rosemarie Francisco; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)


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