In Feb. 2013, Philex Mining Corp. bled P1.034 billion for violation of the Mining Act of 1995. A year later, Philex coughed up an additional P188.6 million to pay for damages wrought on Agno River and Balog Creek from a massive tailings spill – 20 tons of sediments – of the Padcal copper-gold mine in Itogon, Benguet.
Also, Philex had to carry out rehab work and cleanup activities in the mine environs – but untold damage had been done and it may take decades to bring life back to the Agno-Balog waterway that had been a source of drinking water, irrigation for crops, food, and livelihood to several communities along the waterway. Philex lost money; the people lost a way of life that the river, turned “biologically dead,” once bequeathed.
There are truckloads of statutes meant to safeguard the environment; but there will always be tragic lapses attended by human error or spawned by sheer stupidity – that can hold the 54-million-strong Filipino electorate in thrall – that can touch off disasters and wreak horrors on the environs. So sad, stupidity cannot be outlawed.
At around 9 p.m. on Aug. 16, 2013, Express Siete, a Davao-bound cargo vessel with 20 tons of diesel and 120 tons of bunker fuel in its hold, was leaving the Port of Cebu when it rammed into an incoming passenger ferry, Aquinas – fatality count, 116 people. The consequent oil spill slathered black the coastline of Cordova town, killed off local marine life, and harrowed dead the source of livelihood for the town’s marginal fishermen and their families.
The local government and some fishers went on to file a case, seeking P132 million to pay for the complete rehab of Cordova’s marine environment. Fisherfolk are still pressing for P81 million in damages to cover for loss of livelihood caused by the oil spill. Kith and kin of the passengers who perished in the maritime disaster can only grieve, reluctant to pursue a case against the shipowner firms. Litigation of such a sort can drag for eternity – that fritters away time, money, even sanity.
In Metro Manila, a Pasig City-based chemicals manufacturing firm had been found to have dumped high levels of copper, manganese, lead, nickel, and zinc – heavy metals murderous to human health – into an already heavily polluted Pasig River. Nobody has bothered to step forward to sue the firm; it would be a legal tussle between a moth and a behemoth.
But someone is out on a Don Quixote quest for justice for the aggrieved people, for the communities sundered and suffering, and for the environment. Statecraft calls for it.
“There have been many instances of man-made environmental damages like the 1996 Marcopper Mining tragedy in Marinduque that led to the biological death of Boac and Makalupnit rivers, destroyed hectares of farmlands, and displaced families. The 2005 and 2007 massive fish kills in Rapu-Rapu, Albay touched off by cyanide spills from the mining operations of Lafayette Philippines, Inc. also caused untold damage to the community.
However, despite these environmental disasters, there is still no policy to ensure adequate compensation for communities affected by man-made disasters,” cites lawmaker-turned-aspirant for the presidency Grace Poe.
Poe had been pushing for a mandatory environmental insurance coverage for owners and operators of environmentally critical businesses. Such insurance “will be used to compensate for damages and to rehabilitate any environmental impairment caused by their operation.
“The mandatory environmental insurance coverage is designed to relieve a business firm of the financial burden to spend for environmental loss or damage arising from its project’s construction or operation. It will answer for all claims for the payment of damages to health and property, environmental rehabilitation, remediation, and clean-up costs and expenses,” Poe explains.
Business operations hereabouts have yet to take on an emerging paradigm for the new millennium – the triple bottom-line that sees sustainable profits in terms of (1) monetary returns to investors; (2) financial impact on the people and the local economy/community where the business operates; and (3) impact on the environment. Poe’s policy uptake is hinged on such a paradigm: profitable, people-friendly, and earth-friendly.
“Although the government recognizes the indispensable role of the private sector, encourages private enterprise, and provides incentives to needed investments, it is also imperative for the government ‘to protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthy ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature,’ as enshrined in the 1987 Constitution,” she points out.
There will always be men and corporations in mad pursuit of profits, but there will be those with a heart that know what corporate social responsibility means and Poe’s envisioned policy for environment-friendly business will resonate.
The Poe vision will not exactly win her brownie points from the environmentally retarded or approval from businesses that will have to allocate a portion of their capital expenditures for a mandatory environmental insurance coverage. No matter.
True-brown leaders like Poe need not be popular. But she is a populist.