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Commentary: Miners, other stakeholders must work together

There can be no more opportune time than this moment for miners to step up and be the first ones to reach out to the other stakeholders. Philstar.com/File photo

Philippine Business for Environmental Stewardship (PBEST) opposed the confirmation of Gina Lopez as secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Yet, from the way that the hearings proceeded and how they were covered in the news, the confirmation process became portrayed only as a fight between miners, on the one hand, and Lopez, the crusading environmentalist, on the other.

However, the management of the DENR and the proper use of our wealth in natural resources goes far beyond this simple dichotomy. Moving forward, all stakeholders—especially the miners—have an opportunity to show their genuine commitment to responsible mining practices and demonstrate the legitimacy of the industry.

Beyond good or evil

From the way the news broke, one could believe that the Commission on Appointments’ (CA) rejection of Lopez’ appointment was a triumph of evil over good. To no surprise, the environmental non-government organizations (NGOs), forming part of the anti-mining base, protested the decision as terrible to their cause. Worse, imputations of bribery fueled a controversy not traditionally seen in CA hearings. In contrast, the mining sector got a positive twist, if the sudden jump in mining stock prices is any indication.

PBEST considers this portrayal of a dichotomy to be most unfortunate: It divides stakeholders and clouds legitimate environmental concerns. This division has become so deep-seated that all parties must now realize that the environment ends up losing when the smoke from the debacle clears.

During the CA deliberations, we heard nothing significant on the environmental protection front, only complaints from the mining industry against the orders of Lopez and her overarching area development and social justice retort. Instead of debating how best to manage the environment and rich natural resources, the process lead stakeholders to argue only on the propriety of Lopez’s brand of environmentalism.

The urgency of this issue was emphasized by PBEST when it grounded its opposition on the observation that Lopez will cause division and not unity among stakeholders. If this stalemate is to end, then all the sectors of society, be they from the government, the private sector, the academe, or civil society, must collaborate under a united front for environmental stewardship.

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Urgent need to heal the divide

There can be no more opportune time than this moment for miners to step up and be the first ones to reach out to the other stakeholders. It will be absurd for miners to take the CA’s decision as a vindication of the business as usual. Certainly, it will be wise for the miners to prove to their critics that they are not just after extracting the country’s minerals, but the responsible management of our environment as well. After all, that is what legitimate industries must do considering the no one can claim a zero footprint in the earth.

Indeed, there must be a realization that the passionate debate about responsible mining, or even whether mining can be undertaken in the Philippines in the first place, would not have plagued the industry had the players been truly responsible. Mining disasters due to non-compliance with environmental regulations or utter disregard for the protection of the environment and the welfare of surrounding communities did in fact happen. Moreover, illegal operations continue to thrive, and serve as an affront to the people’s right to a balanced and healthful ecology. As a result, the mantra of social justice became so appealing and almost synonymous to anti-mining as horror stories caused by mining operations got wide traction and overshadowed demonstrations of compliance and adoption of best practices.

Thus, the miners should reflect and ask themselves: would the anti-mining propaganda have been so difficult to counter had environmental issues not caused by their cohorts? The appointment of Lopez, the face of the anti-mining campaign, as environment secretary is a clear manifestation that the public favors the crackdown on mining.

Answer the wake-up call

In proving their critics wrong, the miners must be up to the challenge of fostering the healing of the wounds of division by forging partnerships. This is the only way there can be an effective management of the environment because, as the mining industry perfectly exemplifies, the issues involved cut across the various scientific, social, and economic aspects of human living.

After the CA saw through Lopez’s brand of environmentalism and exercised political will, this moment may well be the last for the miners to show the Filipinos how the country as a whole can benefit. Failure to do so will cement the industry’s demonized status, and their promises of economic development and responsible stewardship reduced to empty propaganda.

A good start for the industry in reaching out to stakeholders is by becoming transparent. The miners can very well express their sincerity and show good faith by being reasonably open for government, academic and, more importantly, community scrutiny. Through such action, they convey that the industry hides nothing and welcomes constructive criticism to improve social and environmental performance.

It is a good thing that there already exists a platform for this in the Philippine Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (PH-EITI), but much more can be achieved if the mining industry goes beyond transparency in internal revenue remittance and other sums due to the local government units and the communities. Perhaps, empowerment of the multipartite monitoring teams (MMT), especially the community members forming part of the teams, will jumpstart the endeavor towards becoming genuinely transparent and opening up to other stakeholders.

Finally, the DENR will be instrumental in any partnership or collaboration among the different stakeholders in the environmental sector. As the main environmental regulatory agency, the DENR must be conscious of the shift in environmental governance, that is, from regulation-driven, or the command-and-control style, to one of self-regulation. The importance of this cannot be emphasized more than by considering our weak record for implementing environmental regulations. It is therefore imperative that we, all the sectors of society, including the miners along with the anti-mining groups, to work together for the responsible stewardship of the environment.

The timing is surely right now that we have a new environment secretary.

Lawyer Lysander Castillo is an environment fellow at the Stratbase-ADR Institute and the secretary-general of Philippine Business for Environmental Stewardship, or PBEST.

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