The embarrassment of mines, the fortitude of Gina Lopez

23

KATRINA STUART SANTIAGO

If there’s anything that’s been absolutely fascinating watching the proceedings for the confirmation of Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Gina Lopez at the Commission on Appointments, it’s how that long list of oppositors have come together solely to discredit her by misinforming the public and evading culpability for the mining crisis.

Mining misinformation
Mining companies and their advocates and employees want us to forget things. For two days last week, we watched miners and mining interests falling all over themselves trying to make us forget irresponsible mining’s destruction of the environment, displacement of communities, and militarization of sitios and barangays.

So instead of talking about that, the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) insists that Lopez is “someone who does not believe in the Constitution’s mandate for the State to undertake the exploration, development, and utilization of natural resources, and as such, has put us, government’s partners in mineral development, at a quandary” (Feb 9 Statement).

COMP refuses to include that part of the Constitution that says that what happens to our natural resources “shall be under the full control and supervision of the State” (Sec 2). Not under the control of mining companies, or the Chamber of Mines.


The Constitution also states that while the President might enter into these agreements for exploration, development and utilization of minerals, these should happen “according to the general terms and conditions provided by law, based on real contributions to the economic growth and general welfare of the country” (Sec 2).

By law, which would be the various laws that protect the environment. And based on “real contributions” not just to the economy but the “welfare” of nation. These are parts of the Constitution that in fact the current DENR leadership is abiding by.

UP teacher Carlos Arcilla also spoke against Lopez’s confirmation, discrediting her by talking about a Lopez Company pipeline accident from 2010, but also and more importantly, asserting that if all mining should stop in watersheds, then – and I paraphrase here – our economy will die and we will not have raw materials!

In reality, mining contributes little to our economy. Not only are we talking tax breaks and cases where they refuse to pay royalties, we’re also looking at this: in 2013, when mining exports hit $3.4 billion dollars, mining contributed only 0.7 percent to our GDP, and only 0.7 percent to total employment (IBON, 16 Feb).

It’s also absurd when academics like Arcilla sow fear by saying we will lose raw materials from these mines. None of those raw materials go to us. All those raw materials mined from our mountains and forests and lands go straight out of the country, and that is also why the repercussions of these mines on our environment, communities, and indigenous peoples are even more indefensible: because all that destruction and violence and for whose benefit?

Certainly not ours.

Questioning authority
Instead of discussing how the mines ordered closed have violated our laws, the oppositors seek to discredit Lopez on the basis of questioning her authority to close down mines and effectively cancel contracts.

And yet it is clear across all the pro forma contracts that are up on the Mining and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) website, that government – through the DENR Secretary – has the right to cancel mining contracts. In fact, even the Supreme Court, in its decision on Basiana Mining VS DENR (2016) stated that “the power to approve and enter into agreements or contracts rests primarily with the DENR Secretary. Perforce, the power to cancel an MPSA likewise lies with the DENR Secretary” (page 8).

A Court of Appeals decision (2007) on Celestial Mining Nickel Corp. VS Macroasia Corp., also clarified that “Since the DENR Secretary had the power to approve and cancel mineral agreements under Presidential Decree 463 <Mineral Resources Development Decree of 1974>, and the power to cancel them under the CMAO < Consolidated Mine Administrative Order> implementing PD 463, EO 211, and EO 279, then there was no recall of the power of the DENR Secretary under RA 7942 <the Mining Act>. Historically, the DENR Secretary has the express power to approve mineral agreements or contracts and the implied power to cancel said agreements. <emphasis mine>.” (Supreme Court Website, 2007)

The same decision cites the Revised Administrative Code of 1987 when it states that the DENR, “has the power to oversee, supervise, and police our natural resources which include mineral resources. Derived from the broad and explicit powers of the DENR and its Secretary under the Administrative Code of 1987 is the power to approve mineral agreements and necessarily to cancel or cause to cancel said agreements.” (Supreme Court Website, 2007)

Evading culpability
Not surprisingly, none of the mining companies that have been ordered closed or suspended have talked about their violations of pertinent laws as listed in the technical mining audit results which are all already on the DENR website.

Instead, they’ve focused on the insistence that jobs will be lost once these closures happen. But the only reason they can even lay-off workers at this point is because these mines have hired contractual workers, without benefits, without security of tenure, and with every reason to terminate their services if the mine’s profit margin might turn out lower than expected.

The truth is, these mines can afford to keep their workers until final closure happens. And they can also afford to hire these workers for the rehabilitation program that is expected of them once the mine closes. It’s really a matter of what matters more to these mining companies: their workers’ lives, or profits?

Speaking of what matters, COMP says in its statement that since they “can’t just go into any area and mine any which way they want,” that this means that “if mining companies violate the law, is it not also a case of regulatory failure, where for lack of vigilance, manpower, and/or political will, spillage, siltation, and pollution happen?”

Sure, there was a lack of regulation in the past – and even that much Lopez agrees. But now that there will be regulation, now that the DENR has found mines to be in violation of pertinent laws, now that the DENR has decided in favor of people, environment, and nation instead of in favor of destructive big business, how is the DENR still to blame?

Only the mining companies, the COMP, and those UP academics earning from mines could be so blind to this travesty. We expect better from the senators and congressmen at the CA.

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23 Comments

  1. Those mining operators and their lackeys at the Commission on Appointments are in concert to disqualify Sec. Gina Lopez because of her unwavering stand against devastating effect of irresponsible mining to the environment –that have been going on unabated for eons. Sec. Gina Lopez should have shown respective videos on You Tube about the sufferings of people residing at Rapu Rapu, Albay, Bicol; Sta. Cruz, Marinduque, and Sta. Cruz, Zambales. Residents of these places are still suffering due to devastated and poisoned sources of their livelihood due to irresponsible mining. I don’t know if they have the sense of sympathy toward residents of these places because their hostility toward Sec. Gina Lopez during CA’s proceeding have shown otherwise. Yes, the Philippines will be better off without mining.

  2. victor arches on

    Clearly, the Chamber of Mines serves the interests of the mining industry (as with all other chambers, associations or organizations that are invariably established by other industries). Mining is a business—dictated upon by its bottomline—not a welfare foundation. There is NO PROFIT in preserving the environment; on the contrary, environmental rehabilitation and protection cuts a very substantial slice in gross and net operating income.

    The pretentious UP teacher does not know whereof he speaks – I pity the students taking the subjects he teaches. Just because previous administrations—particularly past DENR secretaries—did not do their Constitutionally-mandated jobs does not give mining companies the right or the license to continue their destructive activities.

    DENR Secretary Gina Lopez is a RARE GIFT to the future generations of Filipinos, which is WHY Pareng Digong maintains his steadfast support of this INCORRUPTIBLE, admirable woman, quite unlike the string of vested oppositors who all trooped to the CA, mouthing their rehearsed propaganda for environmental destruction.

    • Juliet of yellows on

      Pera pera lang yan..Pag ayaw mo ng corruption ay dadagsa ang mga kalaban mo kasama na diyan ang congress

  3. Environmental Responsibility on

    A large part of the DENR’s budget was used up to pay people to join rallies. The people who lost their jobs rallied because they had nothing else to lose at this point and they figured it was the only way to get their livelihood back.

    Jasareno is a corrupt son of a bitch. Check your sources again and if you were a responsible writer you should have known this. ALL permits were signed by Jasareno even during Paje’s time– and the deal there was if you could rev share with him via the LGU as their bagmen-enforcers, then you would pass your mining audit no matter how horrible your mining practices were. Those who are responsibly mining still do not want to give into this corrupt system– and this is what they are fighting for; justice against this type of corruption. Gina is just the puppet of Jasareno.

    One of the students who testified as an opposition is a DENR employee. In his heart, he knows that what is going on is wrong. The other people who testified had nothing left to lose. Many of us are environmentalists but we were educated under the scientific process and the proper use of empirical evidences. We have a strict discipline which “tree huggers” don’t possess. Free love is not enough to better our world. We need engineering– we need innovation, we need clean energy, and renewable energy. We need studies and scientific basis to engineer a new beginning– listen to the experts and not to those who think they know what is better for the world.

    Get your sources right and dig beyond the heuristics. Just because you hear the word “environmental activist” it doesn’t mean you are excused from critically thinking and asking the hard questions regarding her methodology. You should know the technicalities before you write about a topic like this. Know the science, and know the law, know the procedures and know the politics behind it.

    This article was nothing but an opinion piece– with absolutely NO basis other than the writers own biases and feelings. This article is living proof that our educational system is failing our country.

    Peace out.

    • Environmental responsiblity..what a nice name . I hope you really live up to that! Anyway this article is not just an opinion. Have you even been to Surigao minesites? If you haven’t, then dont spew bs because those devastations are real and what those mining companies did were pure destruction without any regard of the people and the mountains.

  4. The president is aware how screwed our politician and he knows that the biggest contributor of election are the miners. This is the best way to STOP CORRUPTION cycle that only benefit the PESTE corrupt politician.

    Oh by the way just a reminder to our UP professor that the people of the are the ones paying his salary. SOMETIMES YOU WONDER IF THIS SMART AND BRIGHTEST CITEZEN OF OUR STATE UNIVERSITY HAVE MALASAKIT IN OUR COUNTRY. maawa naman kayo sa mahihirap dont be selfish akala ko ba makabayan kayo.

  5. George F Guillermo on

    Gina Lopez is the best Secretary for the Environment Department in view of her passion and perspective for the environment but she is not qualified as Secretary for Natural Resources because of her bias against the Sector. Be reminded that DENR is actually managing and controlling 2 very important Sectors: Environment and Natural Resources. Pursuant to the Constitution of the Philippines, the State must and should promote the development and proper utilization of the natural resources of the country: minerals, forests, marine/fisheries, land to produce the much needed materials and job creation for sustainable development.

    These resources can only be developed and properly utilized thru “science based solutions and technologies not closing down or cancellations of mining operations. Lopez must not impose her bias against the development and utilization of natural resources particularly minerals or mining but to look for science based solutions and technologies to improve mining operations so as to properly address the spirit and intent of the Phil Constitution in the development and utilization of natural resources.

    Mineral land is one of the land classifications of the public domain as prescribed by the Phil Constitution which must be explored, developed and utilized by the country. It comprised about 3% (about 900 thousands hectares spread out throughout the country) of the total land area of the Philippines which is about 30 million hectares. These are legally proclaimed in accordance with the Constitution as Mineral lands. The other land classifications are forest lands (about 12 million hectares or 40% of the total area of the country), National Parks/Protected areas (about 3 million or 10 %), and agricultural lands (about 14 million or 47 % of Phil area).
    Mining can only be done in areas classified as mineral lands or mineral reservations.

    To understand better the impact of mining to the environment, we should put it the matter in its proper context by considering all the other land classification types: forest lands and agricultural lands that comprise the total landscape. Forest lands are at present 70 % destroyed/denuded thru illegal cutting, kaingin making, land conversion into agricultural areas resulting to massive erosion and landslide during heavy rainfall and typhoon event causing flashfloods, siltation of rivers and farmlands. Also, agricultural lands which are subjected to destructive farming practices have resulted also to severe erosion and landslides.

    Most of these denuded forest lands and severely eroded agricultural lands are located in watersheds with a combined coverage of about 90-95% of the total area of the watersheds, thus a mining area which accounts only 2-3% of the total area of the watershed cannot be faulted as the major cause of siltation of rivers, loss of water supply and/or destruction of lowland farms as its area is only 3% compared to the area covered by denuded forest lands and severely eroded agricultural lands which accounts for almost 95%.

    Not known to many, in view of the large areas of denuded/destroyed forest lands thru kaingin making and open cultivation and highly eroded agricultural lands, such areas actually form the largest part of any particular watershed and thus with its corresponding adverse effects to the surrounding environment and/or downstream communities.

    Secretary Lopez is using a “deception” strategy by exploiting the term “watershed” to dramatize the “bad effects” of mining but strictly speaking the whole country is in fact one “big watershed”. There is no area even a square meter of land in the country which is not a part of a watershed. Thus, it is not proper to say that she is cancelling a mining license because it is situated in a watershed. The context or basis why Sec Lopez is closing down the mining firms because they are located in watersheds is misleading or she does not know what she is talking about as there are more problematic denuded forest lands and severely eroded agricultural lands in watershed areas which are largely contributing to soil erosion, sedimentation of rivers/lowland farms, landslide, flashflood and flooding during heavy rainfall and loss/lack of water during dry season.

    Indeed, mining which accounts only 3% of its area is not the only land-use activity in watersheds but there are more other vast land uses such as forest lands and agricultural lands which are subjected to destruction, kaingin –making and destructive farming practices. More kaingin making and/or forest destruction will be done as a result or negative impact if mining will be closed because all the thousands of upland or local residents who were employed or dependent in mining have no other option to survive but to convert the remaining forest into farms/agricultural areas where they could plant corns and other cash crops.

    A hectare of forest converted into upland farms can barely support a family of 8, an average family size in rural areas. These previously forested areas converted into farms thru kaingin making would become poor, degraded or marginal after 2-3 years open cultivation due to soil erosion and the cycle of kaingin making, land conversion and cultivation shall be repeated in other forest areas until the last stand of forest shall be gone. These will result to a more tremendous adverse environmental effects such as siltation, landslide, flashloods and flooding during rainy season and lack of water for domestic use and irrigation during dry season including loss of biodiversity, wood supply among others.

    But indeed, poor technology on mining industry will result to adverse impacts to the environment but it can be corrected or improved by the adoption of appropriate and science-based technology. We need more science -based technologies to be developed on the proper utilization of our natural resources to optimize the contribution of the natural resources sector to the economy by providing almost all the materials needed in the infrastructure and housing industry, hospitals, cars, boat and shipping industry, etc and alleviating poverty in the country thru job creation to lessen if not totally remove the pressure to forest areas.

    Environment and development can go together. This can only happen when we reorganize the DENR by removing the natural resources sector from the control and bias of anti-natural resources/mining administrators, in order to grow, develop, and sustain a science-based agency/sector run and/or managed by highly motivated, God-fearing, patriotic, talented and gifted scientists and technologists who are pro science-based mining development and other natural resources which are GOD’s gift and blessings to mankind.

    Secretary Lopez can stay even forever in the Environment because of her passion of it but not in the natural resources sector because the country needs a group Scientists who equally also have the passion and commitment to develop the natural resources sector for sustainable use and management as intended by the Constitution.

    • Roger Purdue on

      You make many good points, including the justification for a clear need: separate DENR into 2 departments. The Department of the Environment should be separate from the Department of Natural Resources. And there should be an independent commission to establish environmental protections required for a mineral or industrial development to proceed, before projects are given the go-ahead. The President should take it upon himself to institute these overdue changes.

  6. Well writren article. Pwede bang maging official stand ng mainstream media kasi majority of media people and big media companies are pro mining. My family lives in this mining areas and we see and feel NO BENEFIT of this mining only corrupt and rich politician. SALAMAT SA YONG OPINION KAPATID YOU ARE RARE MEDIA PERSON.

    • Juliet of yellows on

      The guy with a BUCK always win…..Just wait until duterte terms end..Hopeful that corrupt Liberals ruled the country once more…..

  7. Secretary Gina Lopez a rare breed .President D30 must nominate people like her in the cabinet. Ready to take on special interest for the good of the Filipino people.
    It is obvious with all the destruction committed by the mining business and the reported smuggling of our gold, the law must be thrown among these people.
    And for those who defend these environmental destruction chill out….even without these 72 cheated billion revenue
    we are still one of the riches nation in Asia in spite of the lingering corruption that we have in this country.

  8. Many people would harp on the side of responsive mining, jobs lost, etc. But many people could also cite facts correctly showing that mining contributed small to our economy at the cost of our degraded environment and displaced communities. Just look at how the mining areas remained to be on the top poorest provinces in the country. Our economists say we are poor because our economy is largely on consumerism than on production thus hanging precariously probably held only by OFW remittances, BPO labor, tourism, etc. We keep exporting our raw materials then buy them back expensively as finished products like cars or everything made in china. One can even be furious to know that in the years from 2005 to 2015, it was said that 79% of our gold mined in the south was illegally exported to hongkong in violation of our constitutional laws. Having Gina Lopez as DENR Chief is an epic achievement of Duterte administration as one MT columnist put it.

  9. Ms. Lopez is obviously not averse to mining per se, but to IRRESPONSIBLE mining practices, including shipping out of the country raw materials and earning billions of pesos at the expense of our people. The country needs right now someone like her to swing the whip so that all those into mining toe the line of the law and common good.

  10. Disclosure: I’m a foreigner, not a resident pf the Philippines. Nevertheless, I found the proceedings (available on You Tube) fascinating. Frankly, Ms Lopez has an impossible job, as she’s meant to be the champion of the two warring factions of which DENR is composed: Environment on the one hand, and Natural Resources (principally mining and forestry) on the other. I think she’s turned out to be a great Sec. of the Environment; but she is totally anti-Nat. Resources, and with little compassion – like the author of this article – for the 1.2 million people who will lose their jobs if the mines are closed. As well, she seems blind to contracts freely entered into between the government and the mining companies, and the rule of law in adjudicating disputes. The rule of law in the Philippines appears, to an outsider, to hold little sway in today’s world. If this perception is strengthened, it should not be surprising if foreign-owned companies choose to invest in countries other than the Philippines. But Gina came across as a star – passionate and eloquent. But she was not prepared to compromise her principles – even if she was wrong.

    • Excuse me..I strogly disgaree with your opinion. My family lives in this mining community and we dont see and feel benifit in our lives ONLY corrupt and rich politician. Go home and eat you money.

  11. The names of the members and chairman of the commission on appointments that grill ms. gina lopes should be published to infrm the voting public come election time. We shall bury these people in the mines they used to protect.

  12. The large number of paid oppositors to the confirmation of Gina Lopez and the apparent bias in their favor of some members of congress is a testament to how big the money is in the destructive mining that has been done for the past generations and is still rampant today. The well organized opposition to Gina is also a testament to how well she is doing her job as DENR Secretary in protecting the interests of the environment and millions of ordinary Filipinos in the countrysides.