Communication is key in ongoing mining debate
INTROSPECTIVE - Tony Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - August 6, 2017 - 4:00pm

If I were to be perfectly honest, I would have to admit that I don’t understand why mining is now the center of attention for President Duterte. I admit that there may be some issues that need to be resolved or addressed in the mining industry, but I don’t think it should be the focal point of the government right now. I think we can all agree that there are far bigger concerns that we should be putting the spotlight on – armed conflicts, infrastructure, education, fixing the traffic, international relations, healthcare, taxes, and the list goes on and on.

Don’t get me wrong; I believe that we should have a keen focus on environmental protection and rehabilitation too. That’s an important issue that should not get pushed to the back burner. But I don’t think that crucifying the mining industry is the way to address our country’s environmental issues. If anything, there are extremely strict regulations that exist on mining companies. There is a lot more that contributes to the environmental degradation than mining for minerals. I believe that the president won’t see the results he is hoping for by focusing on just one industry.

Mining has been a hot button topic for the Duterte administration for a long time. We saw the issue escalate dramatically when Gina Lopez was assigned to be Environment Secretary and she let loose on mining companies. Although she was later rejected by the Commission on Appointments it’s clear that many of her opinions still remain in the President’s head and during his State of the Nation Address (SONA) he warned miners in the country that unless they cleaned up their act he would “tax them to death.”

Personally I feel that the President may have gone overboard with his view of the situation. But then again, he is known for being ruled by emotion first and foremost and I can understand again, his desire to protect the environment. But I hope he recognizes the contribution that responsible mining has made to the Philippines. It’s an important resource and a major industry that helps provide livelihood to several communities.

In other countries natural resource industries work together with the government for the best possible outcomes. Here in the Philippines it seems to be the opposite. The court of public opinion often sways those in power. I hate to say it but, while it is important for people to have a say in the way the country works, unsubstantiated opinions should not ultimately force our government’s hand.

It’s possible I see it from the wider perspective. After all, as I mentioned before I was one of the people who helped craft the Responsible Mining Act of 1995 and I believe that while the industry may have expanded since then, the rules and regulations that need to be in place for responsible mining have not. We just need to ensure that the players are following the law to the letter.

As I said, the industry and the government need to work proactively together. That is the only way we can get the best possible outcome. That’s why I’m happy that the president agreed to meet with the different mining executives. Although he was the only one who spoke at their recent meeting it is still a solid first step towards more open dialogue and communication – which to this point has been sorely missing.

At the meeting the president admitted that he is a stickler for the law and the law allows mining. However, he reiterated that mining firms need to take responsibility for the environment in the communities where they do business. I believe that that is really carved into their DNA so I don’t see this being a problem. After all, most of the top mining firms make it their mission to be responsible, reduce their impact as much as possible, and have strong CSR programs in place in their respective communities.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Yes, there may be some bad apples in the barrel, but that doesn’t mean the whole barrel is rotten. I am hoping a more open form of communication works in coming up with a solution that is beneficial to all.

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I think we can all agree that there are many thankless positions in the government these days. Years of blatant corruption by a slew of administrations past have put certain government positions in a bad light with the public and that’s not going to change overnight. One such position – and one that’s in the hot seat again – is the head of the Bureau of Customs.

Plagued by “endemic corruption” the bashing of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) seems to continue on a daily basis. And I can see why, after all, for several years we all knew that the BOC was corrupt we just kind of accepted it. Suspicious shipments made it through on “payola” while legitimate ones collected dust in BOC warehouses because people refused to pay exorbitant “fees.”

These days the drama continues. Unfortunately coupled with the ongoing drug war it’s gotten much worse. Just recently a P6.4-billion shipment of shabu was released and seized from a BOC warehouse in Valenzuela City. If something that staggering can make it through we really have to consider the consequences. After all, a shipment of that magnitude doesn’t just “slip through the cracks.”

However, does this continuing bad luck reflect badly on current BOC Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon? He has also been having a bad go of it recently. I personally believe in his honesty and capacity but there are many who don’t. I hope the president gives him a chance to prove his worth in a thankless job. Of course that doesn’t mean that things don’t have to change within the BOC. There is no doubt that the BOC needs to be looked at through a fine-toothed comb. Corruption exists on all levels. But I also don’t think that it means that everybody is corrupt. A thorough investigation should be conducted before coming to any sweeping conclusions.


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