PRESIDENT Duterte, at the start of his off-the-cuff remarks in his 2017 State of the Nation Address last Monday, said that the lengthy feature of ABS-CBN’s Ted Failon on the damage wrought by mining on natural ecosystems that poor families depend on for their food and life, moved him so much that he threatened the mining industry with being “taxed to death” if they did not restore the damage.
In my two previous columns here, I have been pushing the point that “sectorism” (defined as dominant public policies that primarily empower a sector at the expense of areas), introduced together with colonialism in the 16th century (496 years ago) continues to drive the whole economy and defines how average Filipinos experience living in these islands. It certainly provides little comfort for the majority.
President Duterte closed his SONA by saying, ““Believe me, it is easier to build from scratch than to dismantle the rotten and rebuild upon its rubble. Let us work together and lay a new foundation in which a better Philippines can be reconstructed. Help me build a better tomorrow.”.
This statement could not be any more true than for our mining sector, which largely, against our very constitutional mandate to protect Philippine territory—whose subsoil with a mere 1 percent mineral content miners ship out to China and Japan in volumes of over 40 million metric tons a year—needs to be dismantled and totally rebuilt upon. Rebuilt specifically along the lines of Areaism, or area development policies.
DU30 being fed wrong info
All the mining policies being implemented now allows them, aided and abetted by a compliant MGB unit of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), to provide the substance of the Failon mining impact feature that made a big impression on the President. And it is an ugly presentation of photo and video documentation of brutalized local areas. But imagine if we recoil at the images, imagine what it is like to actually be from those areas and facing the full brunt of living dangerously with orange toxic floodwaters.
Under previous administrations, large mining companies enjoyed unhampered permission to violate environmental laws and were caught off guard only when Duterte appointed Gina Lopez environment secretary, and who made the effort to fly over and visit mine sites to assess for herself. This resulted in closures and suspension orders that, to this day, about five months later, are still “being reviewed” by Malacañang. Thus, the environmental impacts are being felt, especially in Surigao Sur and Norte, Dinagat and Agusan Norte, to this day without let-up.
It is obvious that the President is being fedtwisted mining information by the sectorists (those who espouse sectorism, or the power of sectors over areas) led by Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez; like when Duterte started his remarks on mining by saying in so many words “because of the threat of a mandamus that can be filed by the miners we have no choice but to allow them to continue but they must repair the damage or I will tax them to death”. The President also said he wants minerals to stay in the country for further processing to aid in our industrialization. Well and good, and yes, these are good “areaism” statements. However, areaists like me cannot be misled by what is really happening. Sectorism will continue to prevail as there was zero articulation of controlling sectorists in mining and placing them under areaism policies.
There were some misleading sectorist statements of the President, such as when he said that mining contributes P70 billion annually to the treasury when in truth that is the total sales of the whole industry. Its financial contribution to government coffers is a measly P15 billion as of a few years back. Also, when Duterte said we have respect mining contracts because of a possible “mandamus” against the government, which isn’t really true because of the well-documented gross environmental law violations by miners. Further, the old-hat promise of “minerals needed for industrialization” which was also used as a gimmick when the Mining Act was being pushed, will not likely happen given the lack of interest from miners who can make humongous amounts of dollar profits with minimal, I mean really minimal, effort and risk (putting soil on ships seems to have zero risk). Why put up mineral processing?
Areaist reforms in mining
What are mining area-based reforms that are badly needed? Areaism policies are those that enhance an Area’s resident households and ecosystems net worth over time while providing a dignified standard of living (good education, cultural development, increasing social capital).
For one, extracting subsoil (up to 20 meters deep) for shipment abroad by clearing all-important trees at the top of watersheds, and under-providing siltation capture ponds that means certain death for the ridge-to-reef interacting ecosystems that provide the platform for farmers, fishers and all of the local ancillary services to make it happen, must stop. This violates current forestry laws and the Clean Water Act and marine protection laws and is simply not allowed but is allowed to continue by the non (or really delayed) action on former Environment Secretary Gina Lopez’s orders which have all been appealed by miners to the Office of the President. He has probably been misled, even if he is a lawyer, that he cannot touch or close them because they are compliant with just one law: the Mining Act of 1995. That may be true but that Act also says that all environmental laws and the Constitution must be followed as well. So, areaism would implement all environmental laws strictly just like what Secretary Lopez did as she is a genuine Areaist.
Another areaist mining policy would be to ensure that local value-added is sustainable and maximized from the minerals while still providing profits to risk capital to develop the mine site. Households from the area must directly benefit not just from income flows but from improving assets, natural, human, and manufactured, to assure future generations of the area that they were not simply robbed by sectorists.
In sum, the President’s SONA was disappointing from an area policy perspective and is another indication that this at-first-hopefully areaist President has been captured by the sectorists. Too bad as President Duterte himself said that it is easier to build from scratch a new way, but I heard no boldness coming from him at all in this compartment of the Philippines. Again, only a genuine areaist political party that takes over the government has any chance now to rebuild this country, area by area, with areaist policies.