PRESIDENT BS Aquino 3rd continues to astonish us with his brazen favoritism toward cronies and political allies.
As the Times reported yesterday, Aquino took time out from his busy schedule to personally attend a ceremony conferring the Presidential Mineral Industry Environmental Award on mining firm SR Metals Inc. (SRMI), praising the company for having “performed well in protecting the environment, keeping their operations safe, and helping the communities in which they operate.”
SRMI is controlled by businessman Francis Enrico “Eric” Gutierrez, who has been widely reported as having been one of Aquino’s and the Liberal Party’s top campaign contributors in the 2010 elections. One of the firm’s key shareholders is Caloocan Rep. Edgar Erice, whose role these days is to serve as a media “attack dog” on behalf of Aquino and the party.
Other mining firms recognized by Aquino included Silangan Mindanao Mining, OceanaGold, RioTuba Nickel Mining, and Coral Bay Nickel, all of whom were gently mocked by the President for not having won the highest award. “I made it a point to be here today to thank all of you personally, and to express my hope that, next time, most of you will have shifted from the runner-up awards, to the Presidential Mineral Industry Environmental Award,” Aquino reportedly said.
Even if SRMI had a sterling reputation among the communities where it operates, the lack of propriety and gross conflict of interest on Congressman Erice’s part in keeping a large stake in the company is simply unacceptable – Congress has yet to produce an update to the 1995 Mining Act to operationalize Aquino’s now four-year-old EO 79, which unilaterally wiped away the old law and proposed a number of significant changes. Erice, who wields great influence among his party comrades and their congressional allies, can hardly be expected to take part in that important legislative work objectively and with the best interests of the nation in mind.
Beyond that, it was in incredibly bad taste for Aquino to so blatantly and publicly reward his cronies, and downright rude to openly tweak their competitors for not being worthy of the same recognition. Aquino’s choice made a complete farce of what should be a respectable award given for real effort to improve the environmental, social, and economic performance of the mining industry, not just because of his overt decision to publicly reward “connected” people behind the company, but also because SRMI has a less-than-stellar record when it comes to following regulations and engaging well with its host communities.
Since 2005 – for more than 10 years – SRMI has been the subject of complaints from citizens of the Agusan del Norte town of Tubay, who allege that the company has violated terms of small-scale mining permits, and among other things, poses a health risk to local residents, failed to relocate families forced to move out of the way of mining operations, contributes to flooding and drainage problems in the area, and illegally seized control of farm-to-market roads for exclusive use of the company in its operations.
Those are allegations, it must be stressed, but even if none of them turn out to be valid, it is simply ridiculous, shameful in fact, for Aquino to even consider the company for an award recognizing its environmental and social contributions before the various complaints are cleanly resolved.
We can take heart that it will only be a little more than five months before we can watch this embarrassment of a president make his final departure from Malacañang. Those five months cannot pass quickly enough, as far as we’re concerned.