I FIRST joined Nickel Asia Corporation and the mining industry in 2012 after spending 14 years helping to sell “sugared water.” Those 14 years exposed me to the power of communication in the form of advertising and programs and day-to -day relationship building – with consumers, with customers and communities. The daily attention to these efforts explain, I guess, why the brand I worked for is considered one of the most valuable and most recognizable brands in the world today, and has been for years.
My first week at NAC was a week of orientation and an important part of it was visiting a mine site for the first time in my life.
I will never forget the experience of walking through a forested area in Rio Tuba in Bataraza, Palawan and asking Dr. Bibiano Ranes, our mine rehab guru, “When are you going to mine this?” Only to be surprised by his answer “This was a mined out area.”
I was floored. “Why,” I asked him, “don’t we know about this in Manila?” What I meant was – why didn’t they tell us in Manila (who know almost nothing about mining except what we are told by media – and which is usually negative) that miners can and do create forests after they’ve done the mining part?
I used to say that in my old company, we would build schools in the remote areas, but we would also take out print ads and even make a TVC broadcasting to the world the good that we do.
In contrast, you have miners who have been doing good things for decades… but who keep things to themselves.
And this is so true of the Big Three of Philippine mining: Benguet. Philex. Lepanto even.
Long before the term “corporate social responsibility” had been coined, these pillars of the mining industry in the Philippines had been living corporate social responsibility. Long before SDMP was even conceptualized as a formal program, these “legends” were already undertaking such programs.
Yet the public was generally unaware.
I suppose, speaking frankly, there were three reasons, tied together.
First: in 1900 BC, or 1930 BC, or even 1970 BC – where BC means “before cellphones” – mining operations happening in remote areas were far from the public consciousness. Good things and yes, bad things, could happen and no one will be aware – like a tree falling in the forest and no one hears it.
And because no one hears it media doesn’t take it up, in the ‘media era I call BT (or Before Ted).
Oh… and by the way guess what – the big mining conglomerates also owned the big media outfits – TV stations, newspapers and the powerful radio stations that people outside urban areas tune in to.
And finally, of course, the big conglomerates were always close to the powers-that-be.
Take these three together — and add the fact that mining companies never sell anything to the general public — and you have the perfect reasons to not spend much on communicating about your product or your brand.
But times have changed. The power of mass media has been equaled if not surpassed by the cellphone and social media where any single individual can become a broadcaster and any incident can be magnified a million times – properly or otherwise.
Everyone is a commentator and anyone with an agenda can easily fan the flames with a picture and a comment and one or two likes and shares to begin with.
The inter-connectivity of the world has made us feel that the problem of others is ours too – or will be ours soon — or is happening because of our fault. So the desire to be a warrior for good is also magnified and you have citizens who are now warriors for so many causes.
But sometimes good intentions are the worst motivations for actions.
As for regulators? It is easy for them to get swamped with comments and criticisms and protests not just from local communities but from around the world and because governments can fall when people gather, it is not surprising that people in government can become overly sensitive to the smallest protests. Leading sometimes to wildly fluctuating decision-making that can also be irrational at times. Remember how ALL school field trips were banned for one year because one bus figured in an accident?
So what should the mining community – regulators as well as operators — do?
Alvin Toffler, the American sociologist and futurist, already told us in his book “The Third Wave” that Information is the “source of power” of the future. That was 1980.
Almost four decades later, it is clear. We have no choice but to wade in. So the effort by the MGB and the DENR to launch the #MineResponsibility campaign and tell the rest of the world what mining is all about is the right thing to do — even if it is almost 40 years late.