Responsible mining
HIDDEN AGENDA (The Philippine Star) - June 29, 2016 - 12:00am

The recent appointment of anti-mining advocate Gina Lopez as secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) sent chills down the spine of members of the local and foreign business community.

A lot of businesses have encountered problems with environmental activists. In a number of cases, the opposition to certain business projects due to their alleged negative effect on the environment and/or the local community had no basis at all.

True there are so-called extractive industries, such as oil and gas extraction, mining, dredging and quarrying whose very nature involves extracting raw material from the earth to be used by consumers. Without these products, where would we be? We would still be probably living in the dark ages, literally and figuratively. After all, oil and coal, which come from the earth, are used to light our homes and fire our machines.

Mining shares absorbed a two-day beating at the Philippine Stock Exchange after news broke out that Lopez was offered, and later accepted, the position of DENR secretary.

News reports revealed that big mining companies lost over P25 billion combined as a result. Among those affected were Semirara Mining, Philex Mining, Nickel Asia.

The Social Security System (SSS) reportedly lost P2 billion because it owns 21 percent of Philex. 

It was only after incoming presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella assured the public that president-elect Rodrigo Duterte was just against irresponsible and illegal mining that share prices managed to bound back. Abella said the Duterte administration is committed to promote a dynamic economy including responsible mining. 

Meanwhile, incoming peace adviser Jess Dureza stressed that mining companies following government regulations have nothing to worry about.

Unfortunately, Lopez has been quoted as saying that there is no such thing as responsible mining, adding that the poorest cities in the country are mining sites.

The big question is, and assuming that her conclusion is correct, without mining, where would these “poor” cities where the lands are mostly unsuited for agriculture, be.

One report mentioned UP environmental economist Dr. Oggie Arcenas as saying that Lopez seems a little rigid in terms of her anti-mining stance and that there might be a need for a little bit of adjustment.

Prof. Carlo Arcilla, a former head of the University of the Philippines (UP) National Institute of Geological Sciences (NIGS), said Lopez lacks scientific training and discernment as revealed in her pronouncements.

Meanwhile, some parties have urged Lopez to personally address certain issues that may damage her credibility.

They cited a 2012 report by the Commission on Audit (COA) which revealed that the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC) failed in its P17.7 million program to clean up the Pasig River and that millions of pesos worth of recycling equipment that were bought in advance were rendered junk because the PRRC failed to build the required number of materials recovery facilities (MRFs) where the equipment would be used.

A separate COA report covering the years 2004 to 2009 also showed that the ABS-CBN Foundation Inc. (AFI) had unilaterally collected a 15 percent management fee over and above its 30 percent share in the net income of the La Mesa Eco-Park’s at the La Mesa Dam in Quezon City.

 And then, of course, there are those environmental problems encountered by Lopez-owned companies, including the landslide at the Energy Development Corp. (EDC) geothermal plant in Leyte that killed five people in 2013, the ecological destruction caused by the EDC-run Northern Negros Geothermal Plant in Mt. Kanlaon, the fuel leak at the West Tower Condominium in Makati City traced to First Philippine Industrial Corp., and the alleged construction of her “glamping” or glamor camping resort for the rich in Brooke’s Point, Palawan on a sacred tribal ground without the consent of the indigenous peoples in the area.

The DENR ordered a probe into the reported tree cutting and takeover of ancestral lands in Brooke’s Point without the approval of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), but nothing has happened so far.

Let us hope Lopez will put to rest all these allegations.

It is not true there is no such thing as responsible mining. What has given mining a bad name are fly-by-night mining operators who come and go, as well as small-scale mining practitioners that use unsafe methods. Even the Office of the president-elect had released a statement stressing “responsible mining plays a key role in the Philippines” and that “the Duterte administration is committed to promoting a robust and dynamic economy with every sector contributing to its growth.”

The keyword here is “responsible,” which means the Philippine mining sector should apply the same rigid standards in minerals extraction practiced in developed countries like Australia and Canada. 

Nickel Asia president Gerard Brimo has said all their mining operations are ISO-compliant for environmental managements systems and are world class, while company VP Jose Bayani Baylon for his part suggested Lopez could channel her “passion” to fight illegal and irresponsible mining.

A blanket condemnation of mining in this country will render millions of Filipinos that depend on the industry, directly and indirectly, unemployed and without access to socio-economic benefits. Many of these areas have been forgotten by our government and the private sector has taken upon itself to address their needs.

Dangerous liaisons

Recently, president-elect Duterte joked about the rivalry between Sen. Koko Pimentel and Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano over the Senate leadership, saying be would just let his two allies fight it out.

On the same occasion, when he spotted Pimentel among the crowd, Duterte addressed him as Sen. Tito Sotto, a member of a different political party who is now backing Pimentel’s bid after reportedly being promised the post of majority leader.

There are those who say that by calling Pimentel as Sotto, Duterte is sending a message that he is not happy with the inclusion of his detractors in the so-called “super majority” and that Duterte does not approve of the alliance among Pimentel, Sotto, and the others. After all, these politicians openly attacked Duterte during the campaign and are critical of his plans.

The incoming president will surely not allow the Senate to be led by someone who is easily controlled by traditional politicians who only want to advance their own personal and political interests.

Let us hope Pimentel understood the joke and heard Duterte’s message loud and clear.

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