The mining industry is giving the Duterte administration a contentious situation that it needs to resolve as a rite of passage. Nobody would probably envy the position of Secretary Gina Lopez right now for being the head of a department faced with the tricky task of performing a balancing act for the sake of all concerned: the residents—mostly poor ethnic minorities—of the areas affected by mining, the business owners of the mines operations, the government and mother nature.
How the President and his Cabinet will handle the situation may well speak a thousand words about how big business may or may not continue to have a stronghold on politics in this country.
Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Lopez knows that her boss, the Chief Executive, has the final word on the fate of the mining companies, most of which have been the object of her wrath and frustration for the destruction of many watersheds in the provinces.
Oh, if only there’s a motherhood win-win solution to this—she might be wont to wish—a case in which the miners that have huge stakes to lose and the long-suffering residents would all be relieved and taken care of…. The fact, though, is that there is no such thing as a win-win solution in this case, as the President and all his Cabinet secretaries, including Lopez, probably know by now. You save one and you hurt the other.
For obvious reasons, the Cabinet secretaries are concerned primarily with jobs and revenues the government stands to lose from the closures and suspensions of the mining operations ordered by Lopez, once approved by the President. Then it would be fiscal-balancing on the part of the Departments of Finance and of the Budget and Management, on the revenue side, and scrambling by the Departments of Labor and Employment and of Social Welfare and Development to head off work hiatus and its psychosocial consequences.
Even the Department of Public Works and Highways have committed to roll out community projects where job displacements would hit hard, while Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco suggested generating jobs through a national greening program.
“The Cabinet members are obviously … very concerned about unemployment and people not having income, so we will put our shoulder to the wheel to address that issue first,” said Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez 3rd, who has absolved himself via the media from any links to the mining industry the night the Mining Industry Coordinating Council, which he co-chairs with Lopez, was convened earlier this month.
Many would remember he was a mining executive, an independent director of Paragon Mining Corp. He was also a member of the board of directors of Alsons Consolidated Resources, which has direct investments in ACR Mining Corp. And ACR and the Alcantara Group have substantial equity in Indophil Resources NL. Indophil owns 37.5 percent of the world-class Tampakan Copper-Gold Project in the southern Philippines, according to the ACR website.
By the way, the $5.9 billion Tampakan project is one of the 75 mining contracts Lopez canceled earlier this month.
Setting any such conflict aside, here is one solution to the problem, along the lines of bringing back the good, old bayanihan spirit:
Some of the mining operations will have to go, for sure, particularly the ones unconscientiously destroying the environment. In the aftermath of this contentious issue, the government must and should come up with what is akin to an agricultural rehabilitation program, because mining involves land, parallel to the emergency employment scheme.
The idea is to gather all the mining workers from affected mining operations and retrain them as cash-crop farmers under a cooperative farming system, similar to what is now happening to onion and garlic farmers, with farm-to-market linkages that assure a ready buyer for their produce in 60-day, 90-day or 120-day cycles, depending on the cash crop.
It is not a win-win solution, but it would definitely help rehabilitate the land for a decidedly more productive use that directly benefits the community at large, as well as the mining workers and their respective families who will be directly affected by the closures and suspension orders.
That might be a veritable solution to the problem. All it needs is for the Duterte administration to study it, consider it, then act on it. It could help bring down cash crop prices and put food on the table of the displaced mining workers, besides cash for their other daily needs and one less headache for the government.