AS is fitting in our legal and constitutional system, the bold decision of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) under Secretary Regina “Gina” Lopez to suspend 23 mining companies and cancel 75 mining contracts will be challenged in court by the affected companies and defended by our environment agency.
This is as it should be.
The DENR and Secretary Lopez, in cancelling the contracts, have acted to enforce Republic Act 7942, or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, which unequivocally provides that mining applications and mining activities are prohibited in proclaimed watershed forest reserves.
Further, Ms Lopez, in shutting down earlier 23 erring mining companies and suspending five others, has acted within her authority, following the completion of an audit of the mining operations of active mining companies, which found their operations to be injurious to the environment and our precious watersheds.
It is more conclusive and judicious to have the controversy contested in court, according to law and valid argumentation, rather than have it contested through publicity and propaganda, which will churn out endless press releases and denunciations without end.
We call attention, first, to the law which vests in the executive the authority to enforce the Mining Act, establish the system for mineral resources exploration, development, utilization and conservation, and open the sector to foreign investors. The same law also defines the role of our environment agency to provide appropriate regulations and inspections in order to ensure that mining operations do not harm the environment.
The DENR acted within the law in enforcing its crackdown on illegal mining activities in the country. Its orders must be followed by the affected companies on the assumption that the actions were carried out with due regard to due process, and that the companies were given an opportunity to show cause why they should not be closed down or their mining contracts cancelled.
For their part, the affected companies, and perhaps the entire mining industry, should avail of the recourse of filing motions for reconsideration or taking legal action against the DENR.
With respect to the cancelled contracts, Malacañang has commendably expressed support for the DENR. It has spelled out, through the presidential legal counsel, the grounds for government action, and the basis for the mining companies to contest the decisions.
Malacañang has stated: “Under the law, there are grounds for cancellation, suspension or closure of a mining contract and mining operation, when there are violations of the mining law.” Violations must be proven by the regulatory agency.
To defend themselves against closure and cancellation of their contracts, the mining companies will predictably recite the taxes they pay the government, the jobs they have created, and the mining industry’s not insignificant contribution to the economy. Like every industry subject to drastic reform (the jeepney industry is another), mining will dramatize the dislocation that would occur when mines are closed down and the jobs are lost. They will count the families that could be impoverished.
We think it is just as important to dramatize the degradation that irresponsible mining can cause the environment, and the irreparable harm that it inflicts on the national future.
Following the devastating earthquake disaster in Surigao del Norte last week, President Duterte visited the province, and from the air he saw with his own eyes the awful toll that mining has inflicted on the Surigao mountains. There was no way to disguise the damage. It is searing, relentless and inexcusable.
When presented with sights like these, the challenge is inescapable for the nation. We must debate again the issue whether mining should be completely prohibited in this country. We must return to fundamentals.