“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
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.