December 2018

Book Review: The Social Terrains of Mine Closure in the Philippines

  • By Dr Sarah Holcombe, Senior Fellow, Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining (CSRM), University of Queensland

Book author: Minerva Chaloping-March

The social aspects of mining have always presented a major challenge to industry, and at the end of mine life the social dimensions (socio-economic, human rights, access to livelihoods, etc) often intensify. Yet, as Chaloping-March points out in The Social Terrains of Mine Closure, while mine closure planning may be promoted as good business practice, industry and government frequently focus on technical, precautionary and biophysical aspects, with less attention to social matters. Chaloping-March’s book focuses on the pointy end of mine life. 

Chaloping-March draws on a wide range of archival material and empirical data. Her methods are qualitative and ethnographic, which provide a richness to the material. The book is also grounded in her experience as a Filipino woman from a copper mining district whose father was an underground miner. This provides unique insight into the local and intergenerational attachments that can accrue to mines.

The book focuses on three long-life mines: Padcal, Antamok and Acupan, all located in Luzon in the Philippines. Though each of the cases offer different lessons about company-community engagement, we are given insight into operational and closure realities in developing regions that are transferable elsewhere.

The book’s case studies cross a spectrum of closure contexts. Chaloping-March applies an actor-oriented analysis where the mining companies are also seen as key actors. 

The first two chapters provide a historical overview of the context of the mining industry in the Philippines. Civil society organisations are a major feature of the socio-political landscape of mining and Indigenous peoples’ rights are recognised.

Chapters three and four focus on the long-life Padcal mine, which began operations in 1958 and is planning for closure in 2022. Philex Corporation established an occupational community of more than 12 000 people at Padcal. As Chaloping-March states, company experience at this operation exemplifies the truism that employees are the key to successful operations. The sentiment that the people of Philex are one big family who are fortunate, not only in their access to work and housing, but also a raft of other entitlements, reveals the insularity and precariousness of this inter-dependant arrangement, which becomes more obvious as the mine heads toward closure.

We also gain insight into the tensions between two groups: the predominantly migrant workforce that generationally evolved and developed local attachments, and the Indigenous peoples.

Two issues I would have liked to have seen further explored are the gendered nature of mining work, and a deeper analysis of why Indigenous people were not initially engaged as workers and part of the early town. Nevertheless, the insights Chaloping-March provides about political jostling around claim-making (aka resource access) and the mechanisms that the company negotiated to settle claims will resonate in other contexts.

In chapter five, Chaloping-March provides a sweeping history of the rise and fall of the Antomok mine. After more than four decades of underground operations, Benguet Corporation sought to shift to open pit bulk mining. This change was so different – entailing the destruction of ancestral lands, livelihoods and homes – that the project was widely resisted by local Indigenous people. Though Benguet asserted its legal right to commence operations, the three-year resistance led to eventual suspension. This has left a complex mess of displaced employees and numerous illegal miners.

While this is a ground-breaking book, one gets the sense it was edited down from what seems like a much larger manuscript (presumably Chaloping-March’s PhD thesis). As a result, there are often clunky endings where the ideas seem truncated. Nevertheless, it is a must-read for industry practitioners. And because of the author’s embedded sensitivity, the reader is offered a balanced and nuanced understanding of positive benefits of mining as well as downsides.

Hopefully, this fine-grained analysis of contextual mine closure is the first of many by social scientists on this escalating issue. 

Share This Article