(First published in Norwegian 27 March 2008)
By Erik Hagen
The Norwegian mining company Intex Resources (formerly Crew Minerals) is hoping that its nickel project on the Philippine island of Mindoro will be the largest of its kind in the world. The project plans have changed several times since the company obtained its first permissions, and it is now launching a campaign to inform about the latest development. The starting time is fixed for 2011 at the earliest.
So far, however, the local population has objected.
The most serious of the opponents, provincial governor Arnan Panaligan, informed Norwatch last year that they planned to go to court to stop the project. He says the plans are in conflict with a local moratorium that forbids mining operations. The governor is especially concerned that the industry will result in flooding of the island’s farming areas.
Intex does not believe that the matter will go so far as legal proceedings. “The local authorities are well on the way towards becoming positive to the project,” Managing Director Hans Christian Qvist said in answer to questions from Norwatch at an open information meeting in Oslo about the Mindoro project on February 26th. “All the three members of Congress from Mindoro are now positive, even though a few mayors here and there are still against it,” according to Qvist.
He further said that, of the two governors on Mindoro, one is ready to change his opinion, whereas they still have to “work a little more on” the other one. He explained that the company at the end of last year started an information campaign based on the latest version of the project plans. The campaign is aimed at all central stakeholders, such as the local population, local organizations and religious communities, and the authorities in the Philippines and Norway. The company believes that they so far have convinced many of the local authorities and residents.
Qvist said that until now there have been many misunderstandings with regard to what the project entails, and that those on Mindoro who have counteracted the company’s plans base their arguments on old project plans. “Most of the negative publicity has probably been our own fault. They are opposed because we have done poor job of informing the local population,” Qvist said.
Continues in Any Case
In November 2007 Norwatch wrote that when the Norwegian ambassador, Ståle T. Risa, visited the project area on Mindoro, one of his conclusions was that the company will have problems obtaining a required permit, a so-called Environmental Compliance Certificate (EEC), since this presupposes local support. The ambassador found little such support on the island.
“True, an EEC is supposed to have local approval. But endorsement from the governor is not necessary to obtain an EEC,” Qvist said.
“Will you continue with the project if you finally get approval from the local authorities but the population living in the area in question continues to resist?”
“There is no conflict between the mining plans and the population,” Jon Steen Pedersen, Chief Geologist and Vice President, answered.” Only 180 families live in the area, and they are all nomadic. They don’t live where the mining operations will take place.”
He referred to the fact that a Memorandum of Understanding had already been entered into with the tribes on the licence area and said that all the meetings the company had had with the tribal leaders had been positive.
“This project will be carried out. Sure thing,” Qvist said.
Intex Resources has five ongoing projects. The nickel project on Mindoro is the largest and most important. A lot is therefore at stake.
Useful Peace Role
“The Philippines has had a great deal of bad experience with regard to mining operations from the time before the new legislation was passed. At that time there was often poor dialogue with the indigenous population and local authorities,” Victoria Bataclan, the country’s ambassador to Norway, explained. “But in the new framework the authorities have done much to provide dialogue and understanding of people’s local needs,” according to the ambassador, who also participated at the information meeting.
According to Bataclan, the Philippines is well on its way to becoming one of the world’s ten most important mining countries, with large deposits of gold, nickel, and chrome. Today, 1.5% of the country’s surface area is covered by mining licences.
The Philippines has been troubled by unrest for several years. Communist- and religiously-based insurrection groups, especially in the south, have been in conflict with the central government. One of the places the Communist guerrilla has stayed has been precisely on Mindoro.
Since 2001 Norway has been the official facilitators for peace talks in the island nation. Precisely that can be advantageous for the company.
“The Communist movement on Mindoro would not dare oppose a project from the country that supports the peace process in the Philippines,” Ambassador Bataclan said.