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Cabinet clash looms over mining policies

“Responsible” mining would remain part of the next government, even saying it will not ask for the bigger revenue share opposed by the industry, the incoming Finance chief said. CC/Marko Lachmann-Anke, stock

MANILA, Philippines - Trouble could be brewing between the departments in charge of mining and of revenues under the Duterte administration.

Incoming finance chief Carlos Dominguez II maintained “responsible” mining would remain part of the next government, even saying it will not ask for the bigger revenue share opposed by the industry.

“Responsible mining plays a key role in the Philippines. The key word here is ‘responsible’ and our president has made his position very clear: ‘You have to do it right...’,” Dominguez said in an e-mail.

“I (also) see no problem with the revenue sharing as specified in the current law,” he told The STAR.

But incoming Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) secretary Gina Lopez, an anti-mining advocate, said even “responsible mining” is not acceptable.

“How can it be responsible to do open pit mining in the (country that is) most vulnerable to climate change? How it can be responsible to put the lives and future of our farmers and fishermen at stake for the money foreigners and rich people want to make?” Lopez argued.

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She added, “If there is responsible mining, why is it that wherever there is mining, there is poverty? The poorest sites in the country are mining areas. What is responsible about the benefit of a few to the detriment of the majority? That doesn’t sound good to me at all.”

Lopez stressed that mining only benefits a few rich people and puts agriculture and fisheries at a delicate level.

Outgoing Environment Secretary Ramon Paje believes that all existing mining contracts will be safe under the incoming Duterte administration, even if it has an anti-mining advocate as environment chief.

“Under the Aquino administration, we respected all existing mining contracts... What we stopped was issuing new ones. I believe they will do the same,” Paje said in a phone interview.

Lopez, current chairperson of the ABS-CBN Lingkod Kapamilya Foundation and the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission, told The STAR that she remains firm on her stand against mining in the Philippines as she said “an economic paradigm that puts people at risk is not the way to realize the country’s potential.”

“I am not keen on mining in this country because we are the most vulnerable to climate change and we are in a geo-hazard zone. Any kind of mining is putting our people’s lives at risk because we are an island ecosystem with an intricate network of eco functions which rely on each other,” Lopez said.

“We haven’t even begun to explore the potential of our bio-diversity. Why will we sacrifice all of that for the wealth of a few,” Lopez said as she stressed that her dictum on existing mine sites in the Philippines should cause “zero suffering to nearby communities, agricultural lands and bodies of water.”

“Sadly, I don’t know of even one mine that has been able to do that, precisely because we live in a geo-hazard zone,” Lopez added.

But president-elect Rodrigo Duterte views the mining industry as a key player in the Philippine economy, his spokesman said yesterday, as investors see a tougher regulatory environment due to his designation of an anti-mining advocate for an environment chief.

A day after Duterte announced his offer to Lopez, mining and oil stocks fell by more than four percent, a development attributed to investors’ anxiety over the next administration’s policies.

Duterte’s spokesman Ernesto Abella, however, maintained that the next president is not anti-mining.  

“The Duterte administration is committed to promoting a robust and dynamic economy, with every sector contributing to its growth. Responsible mining plays a key role in the Philippines,” Abella said in a press conference in Davao City.

Abella said Duterte wants the standards of responsible mining in developed countries like Canada and Australia applied in the Philippines “to ensure the protection of the environment.”

“He (Duterte) supports each and every venture that contributes to the health of the economy, but he is clear that for whatever venture we go into, it should be in a responsible manner. He is not anti-mining. Definitely not,” the incoming presidential spokesman said.

When asked how he can reconcile his pronouncement with the potential appointment of Lopez, who has been a critic of mining, Abella said: “The fact that she accepted it means that she is willing to adjust her positions.”

Lopez said in an earlier interview that she is willing to dialog with mining firms and to cleanse the DENR ranks.

On Wednesday, Duterte announced that there would be a “comprehensive review” of all mining concessions to ensure that their operations are not destroying the environment.  

He also asked mining firms to plant trees and wash away the chemicals they leave behind to avoid destroying the environment.

“If you don’t do it, I will cancel the permit,” Duterte said. “When you’re spoiling the land, I’ll cancel it (permit) without hesitation. That’s the bottom line.”

The incoming president stressed that the mining players “have to do it right because the precious metals belong to the Filipino people.”

In 2012, President Aquino issued Executive Order 79 that stopped the issuance of new mining permits until the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 was amended.

This was supposed to be done through a mining fiscal regime bill, which would have given the government higher revenue share from mining proceeds.

But Paje, who co-chairs the interagency Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC), said the bill did not even pass in the House of Representatives.

“But it was Congress’ call. We cannot meddle with them,” Paje said.

He added that the MICC has the minutes of deliberations on the bill, which Lopez may review when she assumes office on June 30.

Paje and Lopez will meet on June 28 for the transition.

“We welcome Gina Lopez’s entry to the department. Her ties with the civil sector will improve the agency,” Paje said.

Karla Espinosa, national coordinator of the Philippine Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), said her office, which is attached to the Department of Finance, is willing to work with Lopez as it continues with its mandate to improve transparency and monitor mining revenues.

EITI data showed that the government received P40.7 billion from miners.

Separate MGB from DENR

Amid the controversy stirred by Lopez’s appointment, incoming Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia recognizes the possibility of creating a division in the DENR which exercises regulations for the protection of the environment and the direct management of industries that make use of natural resources, including mining.

The department’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) specifically takes care of the permitting process for the mining industry. 

“These are large responsibilities and separating them would be more tractable,” said Pernia. 

Pernia, however, still has no firm position on the matter.

“This is just on top of my head because of the controversy,” he said. “I haven’t cleared this yet (with the incoming president).”

Lopez’s appointment has spooked the industry, caused mining stocks to tumble. 

During the special joint meeting of the Makati Business Club and the US Philippines Society in Makati City yesterday, Philex Mining Corp. chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan reiterated his earlier proposal to separate the regulatory functions of the DENR and the industry management and promotion function of the MGB.

Pangilinan said he respects Lopez’s appointment and would cooperate with the DENR. 

In a statement yesterday, Philex Mining said it is committed to work with the new administration.  

“The president-elect has every right to appoint whoever he deems fit to become the next secretary, not just on a matter of competence, but also on a matter of trust and confidence as a member of his official family,” said Philex. 

“Philex has committed to support president Duterte and his drive against illegal and irresponsible mining. We are open to sitting down and working with the new DENR secretary to further the president’s call, to stamp out the illegal and irresponsible miners who give the industry a bad name,” it added. 

Groups welcome Lopez

The Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas  (Pamalakaya) welcomed the appointment of Lopez to the DENR but added a word of caution on her support for eco-tourism projects in coastal areas. 
Cesar Lanos of the Mansaka tribe of Davao and Midsuburan Datu Jimid Pinayao Masayagan of the Lumad Mindanaw People’s Federation are also hoping for the appointment of a fellow lumad (native) to both the environment and the agriculture agencies.

Indigenous peoples (IPs) allied to the Katribu (Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas) also urged Lopez to support the Novo Vizcayano and other peoples’ call to stop mining operations and cancel the permit of Oceana Gold Philippine Inc. (OGPI) in Nueva Vizcaya. 

The non-government organization Alyansa Tigil Mina supported Lopez’s view on mining and hopes for the delivery and implementation of no-go zones against mining.

“We can’t afford to lose more forests from mining projects. While we believe that minerals have a role to play in our industrialization, the current mining law is inadequate and not enforced diligently,” Alyansa Tigil Mina national coordinator Jaybee Garganera said.

A week ago, indigenous peoples put up barricades in an attempt to stop the operations of the OGPI in Nueva Vizcaya province.

The IPs affected by destructive mining also called on Lopez to thoroughly pursue president-elect Duterte’s promise to heed the people’s demand to end large-scale and destructive mining throughout the country.

“This promise can now be realized with the immediate termination of the mining permit and a stop of the operations of OGPI,” members of the Katribu said, adding that this would bring relief to the communities affected by mining in Nueva Vizcaya. 

Igorot woman leader Piya Malayao, speaking in behalf of Katribu, said Lopez is fully aware that the Filipino people, specially the IPs, have not benefited and have even suffered from the previous regimes’ implementation of a liberalized mining policy.

Katribu said almost 60 percent of approved mining are inside IP territories and have resulted in the destruction of IP land and livelihood.

It added that the Indigenous Peoples Agenda recommends the re-orientation of domestic mining industry, repeal of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 and enactment of a pro-people, pro-environment law.

Lopez is set to hold a press conference on June 29 to elaborate on her plans for the DENR. – With Alexis Romero,  Ding Cervantes, Artemio Dumlao, Rhodina Villanueva, Janvic Mateo, Czeriza Valencia, Edith Regalado

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