• Going green: In defense of our island world

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    YEN MAKABENTA

    “Do you know the difference between a terrorist and an environmentalist? It is easier to reason with the terrorist.”
    Leila L. Kysar, Newsweek essay, 1990

    First Read
    I THOUGHT of the line from Leila Keysar as I read the ongoing battle between Environment Secretary Gina Lopez and scores of mining companies, whom she has accused of having done irreparable damage to the Philippine environment and whom she would probably prefer to put out of business.

    Ms Kysar is the business manager of a tree-farm management enterprise in the state of Washington in the United States. She submitted her essay to the “My Turn” column in Newsweek.

    This week, Secretary Lopez is again in newspaper front pages and the nightly news on TV. Last Thursday, Lopez ordered the closure of seven mines. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) reached the decision following the completion of its audit of mining companies for their compliance with safety standards. Of the 41 mines audited, only 13 passed, while 23 are now slated for closure and five for suspension.

    Mining industry whine in protest
    Mining companies, led by the Chamber of Mines and political leaders in mined provinces are whining in protest against the secretary. They cite the thousands of jobs that would be lost if the affected mines are closed. They recite no end the several billions in revenue that the mines contribute to the economy.

    They are demanding that the DENR audit be released to the public.

    The economic bite is hefty enough to make Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez take careful notice and order a study of the real impact on the economy.

    The politicians are adept in milking the issue of lost jobs in criticizing Lopez and her department. They have gotten precious media space for their lament for their constituents who will be losing jobs.

    Can green industry create more jobs than mining?    
    Feisty from her first day on the job, Lopez has been quick to respond to the jobs lament. She has answered saying that green industries are better at creating jobs than mining.

    She challenged mining companies that she plans to close or suspend to give her at least 18 months to develop areas they previously occupied into ecological zones that “can create more jobs.”

    She declared: “Give me a year and a half, maximum two years. They’ve been there for 77 years . . . A green economy can create more jobs than mining could ever (create) in [the]Dinagat Islands.”

    Lopez said she has learned of 185 possible ecotourism areas in the Dinagat Islands, which could be developed in place of mines and create enterprises for local residents and communities.

    Elaborating, she said: “They (the residents) will have more jobs than they could ever imagine and their economy will not be dependent on outside forces and influences. It will be their money and their resources.”

    “Let them live in the beauty of their place,” she concluded, noting that mining has not helped alleviate poverty in the area.

    Lopez recognizes that some people will be affected by the closing of the mines, but she maintained that the DENR will provide alternative jobs for those who will be affected.

    “I admit that there are people who benefit from the mining kasi may trabaho. But the number of farmers, fishermen and communities and children that suffer because of operations is much, much more so we must make our choice.”

    The secretary also disclosed that consultations and planning will be conducted with affected mining employees from February 16 to 18 to discuss alternative jobs. She said the DENR will announce more “policies” on February 14.

    An appealing cause
    Gina Lopez talks a good game; she is not being buried in an avalanche of PR stuff from the mining industry and the politicians.

    The environment is a tremendous appealing cause. It is a natural advocacy for Filipinos because of our beautiful island world.

    In contrast, mining sometimes looks like an industry that is no more respectable than illegal drugs. If you’ve seen what mining did to a place like Marinduque, you cannot but agree with Gina’s revulsion with mining. You wonder why Congress passed the Mining Act.

    And I wonder what will happen when Gina shifts her gaze from Dinagat to all the wastelands that mining has done to our natural environment.

    From yellow to green
    Green industry is no panacea for the displacement that will occur when mining operations are closed down. The jury is still out on the capacity of the green industries to create jobs and generate growth. Barack Obama got himself burned when he allocated billions of American taxpayer dollars to develop renewable energy projects, and wound up with nothing to show.

    Even so, there is a movement towards “Green Industry,” a term which recognizes that in a world of increasing resource scarcity, climate change, pollution, and depletion of natural capital, economic growth must rely on clean and efficient production processes.

    Having been born and raised in an island province, with the sea all around us (to quote Rachel Carson), I was born with an instinctive reverence for nature; and I have a natural sympathy for the cause of environmentalism championed by Gina Lopez. I think she is a superb choice of President Duterte for the DENR portfolio.

    Gina is certainly more worthy and reasonable than the chieftains of Abu Sayyaf, Maute, and terrorist bands.

    I reiterate my proposal early in DU30’s term. He should adopt the color green as the color of his presidency. Then can we bury and forget the color yellow.

    yenmakabenta@yahoo.com

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    10 Comments

    1. Gina Lopez stand on the protection of the environment is Highly commendable. Somehow we are given a chance to have our future generations benefit from it’s presevation

    2. Mining is good but not in the philippines where every hectare is precious for its school of fishes, trees and other natural resources. Just look at the effect of open-pit mining in the provinces where operations were suspended by Gina Lopez. Why big companies from abroad do their mining ventures here are glaring string of evidences how deleterious mining is. Just google about the topic and one will see how diabolic it is.

      Before, or long ago, mining used to be a nice investment venture for stocks. But now that almost all provinces of the Philippines, especially Batangas, are selected as mining sites, one will wonder why politicians connected with its approval still have the conscience to approve it. No wonder why many want Gina out of the picture.

      Batangas, according to DENR chief, Gina Lopez, supported by scientists, is the center of the CENTER of biodiversity – not only in the Philippines but in the whole world. Gina said: “Why do people have to die first before we experience Paridise?”

      We can have paradise right here on earth through RESPONSIBLE mining. One has just to be honest to describe in detail what is the meaning of RESPONSIBLE. Sometimes a farmer knows better what is the meaning of responsible mining than a senator or congressman. Kailang pa bang ipaliwanag yun? Sa Pilipinas, siguro.

    3. The ever pestering issue of choosing between development (industrial) and well-being of peoples comes out real clearly in mine closures to opening up for green development (!). Much environment destruction as well as heightened discrepancy of income/wealth accumulation in favor of the mine owners are good arguments enough to back up DENR’s decision to close some and suspend a number of mining industries. Gina Lopez’ long-term vision of a green environment, thus healthier communities, in our beloved land deserves focused support. Thanks, Sir, for this column!

    4. And perhaps instead of just looking at the issue of mining vs. jobs, the real issue might be why the mining industry is not in conformance with health, safety, and environmental laws? There is a lot of research into green mining. I’m not sure that Lopez is the unreasonable one here. The land belongs to all the people. The issue is not just the miners, but the broader issues of the economy, environment, and welfare of all the people.

      Mining has a place, but like any other industry needs to conform to the law.

      • Health: like generating government revenues to build hospitals and pay for medical treatment? Like putting money in the pockets of employees so that they can feed and house and educate their families adequately? Legislation (and enforcement) to require mines to ensure that they do not pollute the environment or poison the water? Absolutely.

      • Edwin Subijano on

        No person holding an elected office or the position of cabinet secretary should be allowed to hold shares in mining. No if and no buts !!!

    5. An interesting article, Mr. Makabenta. Personally, however, I think Justin Trudeau (PM of Canada, where I live) has got it right: not development OR the environment, but development AND the environment. Open pit mines are scars on the face of the earth for only a finite period i.e. until the resources have been extracted. Then, with the right government regulations and funding in place, the land can be restored through replacement of the ‘overburden’ (topsoil) and planting of vegetation (or urban development). A requirement could be put in place for mining companies to post bonds to fund the restoration work. Underground mining is less offensive to the eye, but is many more times more dangerous for the lives and health of workers.

      It should be recognized, moreover, that mining is an industry of great potential wealth for the Philippines. Tourism, unlike mining, typically creates large numbers of poorly paid jobs. Also, tourism is only successful if tourists actually come to the Philippines. This is less likely to happen when there are well-publicized kidnappings, extra-judicial killings, and criminality (to which EJKs give rise). (I, for one, am deferring trips to the Philippines until peace and order are restored – after all, there are many other places to visit.)

      • The problem with most of the mining firms in the Philippines is that they don’t practice to the highest standard the protection of the environment and they only contribute a meager amount of their income to the betterment of their surrounding community.These unscrupulous firms mine tailings end up in the rivers,seas and farmlands much to the detriment of people’s health and livelihood.Partly to blame is the haphazard implementation of existing environmental laws.These erring firms are wrecking havoc with impunity as no one is penalized with hefty amount or suspended for a long period during the past administration.Unlike the Philippines, Canadian mining firms are well monitored by their government and responsible enough for the cause of their environment and its wildlife,airways and waterways, and the welfare of its indigenous people.
        Since the contribution of mining industry is only one percent of the GDP, it is negligible compared to the injustice(social and environmental) inflicted on the people.I believe that the verdict of the majority of Filipinos is to close these disreputable mines for now. Let us reserve this for future generation until our tycoons are rich enough to operates these mines on our own and with dignity

      • During the past administration,policing the erring mining firms are poorly executed and the DENR honchos are easily bribed,inadvertently leading to contemptous predilection of some mining firms to maximize their profits with total disregard to the environment and the people’s well-being of the surrounding community.
        In contrast, mining firms in Canada are well administered by their government. Compliance of companies to the protection of the environment and its biodiversity is fully enforced. Violators are fined, suspended and investigated.Welfare of its indigenous people are always considered.
        Stating the difference between the two countries, I believe that it is time to close these disreputable firms for now, Perhaps in the near future or 50 years later, we can open this mine again
        when there is a good governance in the Philippines