The mine site of Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation (RTNMC)
is located in the Barangay of Rio Tuba, town of Bataraza, which is at the southernmost tip of the Province of Palawan.
RTNMC, an affiliate of Nickel Asia Corporation (NAC) is a lateritic nickel mine. The deposit was discovered in the 1960s, mine development eventually followed and in 1977, 40 years ago, it started shipping ore for the first time.
In 2005 the first HPAL processing plant in the Philippines, Coral Bay Nickel Corporation (CBNC), opened next to RTNMC.
Since then RTNMC supplies the plant with limonite ore, while saprolite ore is exported to Japan and China.
The RTNMC story is one of Transformation, converting a remote and virtually uninhabited corner of the Philippines into a bustling community of over 17,000 people - proof that Responsible mining brings substantial development.
To attract a labor force to this isolated area, RTNMC built houses for its employees.
The impact of RTNMC towards the development of the area is best appreciated through our town site and all the development around it.
Needless to say, with this kind of development, the town of Bataraza has become a first-class municipality.
We practice Responsible Mining, which to us means that we follow appropriate international standards, we use best mining practices, we look after the welfare of our employees and our communities and we consider protection of the environment as primordial.
Transparency is especially important to us in a country where mining is controversial, and we do this in two ways.
First, RTNMC through Nickel Asia reports on its sustainable development efforts under the GR4 Guidelines as prescribed by the Global Reporting Initiative. The GRI standards are the first global standards for sustainable reporting.
Second, RTNMC is a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative Philippines, which is a global standard to promote open and accountable management of extractive resources. The Philippines starting this year is one of 32 countries that are EITI compliant.
Both these efforts are purely voluntary on our part.
And lastly, we do not neglect our efforts to tell the public what we do, which we believe is absolutely necessary.
RTNMC has also been working hard to acquire international certifications such as ISO 14001 on Environmental Management, and OHSAS 18001 for occupational health and safety.
With respect to our employees, their welfare is most important to us. We only mine during the dry season when our employment peaks at about 1,500 Workers.
Our regular workforce of about 680 are entitled to numerous benefits including free housing, medical care, schooling and safety equipment, bonuses following profitable periods, retirement pay, and union representation.
With all these, it is no surprise that our turnover rate is very, very low.
Our host communities are critical to us, because this is where we obtain our social license to operate.
We enhance their welfare through programs founded on two pillars. The first is the government mandated Social Development Management Program (SDMP), which obliges us to spend 1.5 percent of our yearly operating costs. We spend close to US$700,000 annually on SDMP programs.
The other is Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR programs, which are purely voluntary and over and above what is required by law. Managed through our Foundation, we spent some US$2.5M in 2016, augmented by a similar amount from Coral Bay.
All in all the SDMP and CSR expenditures of RTN amount to about 8 PERCENT of total operating costs per year.
Under the SDMP, we are focused on a few key programs: our hospital, livelihood projects, education, health, infrastructure and our information campaigns.
Livelihood programs are targeted at organizing our host communities for life after mining is completed. To date we have helped form over 70 people’s associations and cooperatives to go into enterprises such as farming, fishing and aquaculture.
We continue to provide these associations with technical and managerial support.
One program we are particularly proud of is our coffee plantation project that we launched in 2015 covering over 200 hectares in 8 Barangays. This resulted in the formation of eight cooperatives and the employment for 400 residents.
Educating the next generation is important for our host communities, so we build schools and classrooms and provide scholarships, especially to the Indigenous Peoples or IPs in our host communities – and there are about 16,000 of them around us.
For those IPs who cannot access the public school system or who are not comfortable doing so, we have developed an alternative learning system.
For our CSR initiatives, we focus on the hospital, education and IP programs wherein we spent US$2.5M last year.
Our townsite school that caters to our dependents as well as qualified students from the communities is regarded as the best in Palawan, with perhaps the best computer laboratory in the entire country.
We have close to 1,500 students – about a third are non-dependents. Tuition is minimal and we spend US$1 million yearly to run the school.
Our hospital, with a staff of 93, served over 50,000 patients last year, of which almost half were from the surrounding communities, including IPs who are entitled to free medical care.
We spent close to US$3 million for the Hospital last year and part of this expenditure comes from SDMP funds by agreement with the communities.
Please keep in mind that RTNMC and Coral Bay fund the CSR programs through the RTN Foundation roughly on a 50:50 basis.
To improve their living standards, we provide housing for IPs on a voluntary basis under a program that has built seven clusters of houses to date. If they accept, they get involved in the construction of the houses – so they contribute what we call sweat equity – while we supply all materials and assist in construction.
For IPs unable or unwilling to study in public schools, we have developed an Indigenous Learning System, which is accredited by our Education ministry as an alternative system.
Our staff of 37 go to remote IP villages to teach, and now we have over 1,400 students. Note that these are not all kids, but also adults who want to learn to read and write.
For our Environmental programs and because of the shortness of time, I will mention just two. The first is water quality. In an operation like ours, siltation can be an issue.
To address this, all around our Mine Site we have siltation ponds — shaded blue in the Map on the left — that are meant to catch all run-off water from the mine and are large enough to allow silt to settle and clear water to run off.
In this way our rivers and streams and coastline remain silt free, and we comply with the standards for Total Suspended Solids that we have in our country.
The other area of focus is mine rehabilitation, and this is an area where RTNMC has over the years become a model.
We rehabilitate progressively, meaning that as an area is mined out and while we are mining other areas, we move ahead and rehabilitate.
You can see how a mined-out area is first re-contoured, back filled to some extent, laid with top soil that was removed during mine development, before being planted to indigenous hardwood trees and fruit trees. And very quickly we have a forest.
We have rehabilitated over 1/3 of our mining claim and have planted over 1.5 million trees, both within and outside our mining area.
Our rehabilitated mine areas have become bio diverse, and we document every species that populates these areas. We have even seen wild chickens – there is a picture of a rooster on the slide - I’ve asked our people how chickens ended up in our rehab areas and was told that they just walk in, presumably looking for food!
We do our best to tell our story especially to policy makers and the youth. Our NAC bulletin is our group News Magazine and is distributed around the country.
We organize mine tours, which allow visitors, even those that are skeptical, to see for themselves what we have accomplished. Government officials, clergy, student leaders and media practitioners are just some of our regular visitors.
And finally, perhaps not surprisingly, RTNMC has been held up many times as a model of Responsible mining. Three times we have won the highest award given in our industry, the Presidential Mineral Industry Environmental award; and recently we were recognized by the Province of Palawan as one of its Environmental Champions under its very unique Strategic Environmental Plan for Palawan law. Imagine — a mining firm recognized as an environmental champion!
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