Philippines president Marcos signs natural capital accounting bill into law amid mining push

The new law seeks to measure the country’s natural resources, and will place more scrutiny on activities with negative environmental impacts such as resource extraction, a key driver of the country’s economic development.

Residents of Sibuyan Island fight back against police. Envirnmmne
Residents of Sibuyan Island form a human barricade as they tried to block the trucks of Altai Philippines Mining Corporation (APMC) from leaving with nickel ore on 3 February. 2023 Image: Alyansa Tigil Mina

Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos, Jr has signed a bill which seeks to accurately measure the country’s natural resources, into law on 22 May.

The new Philippine Ecosystem and Natural Capital Accounting System (PENCAS) Act aims to establish “a comprehensive information system and accounting framework that will take into consideration the role of the country’s natural capital” and its impact on the economy.

The move was welcomed by environmentalists as the new legislation puts more stringent measures for environmental impact assessments (EIA) – a process that evaluates a development or project’s likely effects on the location it takes place in, including mining.

Since taking office two years ago, Marcos, Jr has been vocal about mining for transition minerals like nickel and copper as one of the sectors tapped to boost the economy after the Covid-19 pandemic.

This was met with resistance from anti-mining groups, who said the initiative disregards the negative impacts of extractives, as nickel mining companies faced back-to-back protests from communities last year. 

“I don’t want to second guess the president on why he passed the bill, despite his emphasis on mining, but we are optimistic about it,” said Rina Rosales, a sustainable natural resource management specialist affiliated with nonprofit Sustainable Interventions for Biodiversity, Ocean, and Landscapes (SIBOL).

“With the new law, we are now mandated to measure those negative impacts [of mining] and put a peso value on it.”

The current EIA system does not measure ecosystem services, which are the direct and indirect contributions of the local ecosystem to human wellbeing and quality of life. Strict application of the new legislation would not just include the economic impacts of activities like mining, but also social and cultural costs to communities in the affected areas, Rosales added.

“We hope the accounting system that will be set up, will help determine the social and ecological costs of mining in a specific area. These are needed in the cost-benefit analyses of past, present and future mining projects and in evaluating whether certain projects are even worth pursuing,” said Jaybee Garganeranational coordinator of anti-mining coalition Alyansa Tigil Mina.

Garganera urged the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to revise its policies to align processes for mining permits to reflect indicators and standards of the PENCAS law.

Natural capital accounting bill: A first in Southeast Asia

Efforts to pass laws accounting for natural capital have been ongoing in the Philippines and other biodiverse Southeast Asian countries for decades, Rosales said. But it is only now that the “stars aligned” with support from policymakers who appreciate science-based data monitoring.

“It is not just the Philippines, but most countries don’t have a measurement of all their natural ecosystems. We don’t really know exactly where all the forests are located, the extent of our coral reefs and all the mangrove forests. [The new law] is about all these ecosystems and mapping out their extent,” she added. 

An archipelago state, the Philippines is one of the countries most at risk from the impacts of climate change, with poor and rural communities bearing the brunt of disasters such as cyclones and droughts.

It is also one of 18 mega-biodiverse countries but was also tagged as a biodiversity hotspot with at least 700 threatened species of flora and fauna.


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