• Save the earth, kill a mountain

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    YEN MAKABENTA

    “It’s like witnessing a rape. You can’t protect it. There’s too much money to be made tearing it down.”
    Thomas Friedman on environmental destruction Hot, Flat and Crowded

    First Read
    TO the credit of President Duterte, his administration does not approach policy decisions in a wishy-washy manner. It turns the task into something existential and fateful.

    Life or death, in the battle over the death penalty bill. Servility or independence in the crafting of Philippine foreign policy.

    In the riveting confirmation hearing of Environment Secretary Regina “Gina” Lopez, which will come to a head today, it is a choice between 1) saving the earth, or 2) killing a mountain.

    This is how a policy debate should be – open and confrontational.

    The Lopez appointment was just one of a score of appointments that President Duterte made at the start of his presidency in July 2016. It should have been as humdrum as the others, but such is the humongous lobby of mining magnates and other bigwigs of the extractive industries, and so strong is the profile of Gina Lopez as an environmentalist, that her appointment spiraled into a brawl at the Commission on Appointments (CA).

    The knives have been drawn, and the briefs of each side have been laid out in the media. Each side has its retinue of supporters and retainers. It’s almost like the drug war; you cannot avoid seeing or hearing it. Filipinos who have no opinion or side in this issue are rare.

    Environment: natural resource or raw material
    It should never be a choice between mining and the environment. That is a false and onerous choice. Mining extracts minerals from the environment, which merely allows it.

    There are industries—fossil fuel, mining, timber—that are so vital to an economy, that government accords it as much importance as the environment.

    Before the environment became a hot-button contemporary issue, there was a traditional policy debate on whether the environment should be viewed as a natural resource or a raw material. Environmentalists and conservationists think natural resource; miners and financiers think raw material.

    First, some definitions:
    Natural resources are resources that exist without the actions of mankind. On earth, they include: sunlight, atmosphere, water, land (including all minerals) along with all vegetation and animal life that naturally subsists upon or within the above identified characteristics and substances.

    Natural resources may be further classified in different ways. Natural resources are materials and components (something that can be used) that can be found within the environment. Every man-made product is composed of natural resources (at its fundamental level).

    A raw material, also known as a feedstock or unprocessed material, is a basic material that is used to produce goods, finished products, energy, or intermediate materials which are feedstock for future finished products.

    One example is crude oil, which is a raw material and a feedstock used in the production of industrial chemicals, fuels, plastics, and pharmaceutical goods; lumber is a raw material used to produce a variety of products, including furniture.

    CA body under scrutiny too
    Gina Lopez is the one on the dock in the confirmation hearing today. But the members of the appointments commission might as well be on the dock themselves; their integrity as gatekeepers for government posts will be under scrutiny.

    Some will pay a price, or earn a retainer (30 pieces of something?).

    You know the stakes are high from the way DU 30 is lobbying hard for his environment secretary. He declared that he is ready to forego the P70 billion in taxes that mining pays in taxes, in order to keep Lopez and her total commitment to protect the environment. He counsels that the nation should earn the money elsewhere, and in a less catastrophic way.

    This complements Lopez’s move to suspend 23 mining companies, and cancel 75 mining agreements, and her well-known spiel about mining ‘s destructive impact on the environment and its meager contribution to the economy.

    The mining lobby has mounted a strong counter-attack. It has assembled a lengthy lineup of oppositors to Lopez and equipped each with prepared statements against her appointment. They include the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP), legislators (who hail from provinces hosting mining activities and are invested in mining ventures), academics for hire, bureaucrats, non-government organizations, journalists, and entire media organizations (some owned by known mining executives). Together they have unfurled a concerted campaign to block Lopez’s confirmation.

    Their principal strategy is to question Lopez’s competence as environment secretary, her alleged failure to give mining companies due process, and to raise questions about her family’s alleged rival business interests.

    Issue by issue, barb for barb, sound bite for sound bite, it has been a whale of a contest.

    When the mining lobby questioned her competence, Gina fired back. She told CA vice chairman Rep. Ronaldo Zamora of San Juan, that his brother has been mining for two decades and has killed a mountain. She all but accused the congressman of being invested in mining himself.

    The image of killing a mountain resonated. Zamora and his brothers now have questions to answer about their mining activities. Their failed bet on Mar Roxas in the 2016 presidential elections is not lost on Duterte.

    All the publicity against Gina appear puny compared to the widespread unpopularity of mining and the public opposition of the Catholic Church and other churches to mining. The fact that the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 allows mining in the country is no defense; it only leads to the demand that the Congress should now repeal the law.

    When citizens learn that mining contributes less than one percent to the gross domestic product (GDP), they put two and two together. They ask, why are we allowing mining to destroy our environment? What does the country get in return?

    There is no good answer. When you have seen a mountain and an area that has been mined, you do not forget.

    The quote from Thomas Friedman in his 2008 book, Hot, Flat and Crowded, is apposite: “It’s like witnessing a rape. You can’t protect it. There’s too much money to be made tearing it down.”

    A victim of rape
    Our natural environment, our God-given heritage, let us face it, is a victim of rape. It is not all the doing of mining. Logging and over- fishing have also done their share.

    But mining has been the most devastating, the most merciless, and the most guilty.

    This is why President Duterte, after viewing by helicopter the mined areas of the archipelago, sounds like the alter ego of Gina Lopez. He is grieved by the flattened mountains, the clearings in the forest areas, and the rivers that have been ruined. He sounds close to proclaiming a war on mining, as a follow-up to the war on drugs.

    Mining can never win a public relations war against the DENR and the environment. Not in our archipelago. Not among our people.

    If the Commission on Appointments blocks Gina Lopez’s appointment as DENR secretary, it will be the CA’s disgrace.

    yenmakabenta@yahoo.com

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    15 Comments

    1. Take a look at the map of the Philippines Archipelago. Its so like a woman so frail, weak like a skeleton, so frgile to be abused and raped. That’s why we call it Mother Land, Mother Nature and Mother Earth what kind of a child are we to rape and abuse a Mother.

    2. CA need to confirm Regina Lopez as it is her advocacy in our environment. Don’t let our environment be raped. teared and killed by these “Self confessed law abiding miners”. If you are in mining site then you can said it raped indeed.

    3. Juan Makisig on

      A lot of our Politicians are involve or has knowledge on operations of Mining in our Country and some of them had finance their own Presidential bet wherein he lost in a wide margin. Zamora’s and Gutierrez are some of the few crooked human who are abusing mother nature. This kind of abusive individuals should be the bait among criminals, terrorist or KFR group which they deserve without question. Elite and Oligarch are the one who patronizing this kind of activity.
      We should not forget the Bell Trade Act of the late President Manuel Roxas which authorized this kind of abuse on our mother nature.

    4. Definitely mining must stop in areas where the environment can still be saved, but logically it must be allowed to continue where the ecosystem has already been irretrievably destroyed beyond recovery, there at least, continued mining of the mineral ore will serves some national development purpose and provide jobs.

    5. Metal Melter on

      P70 billion in taxes and a contribution to the GDP of <1% from an industry that only occupies <2% of the total land area of the Philippines. Gina Lopez is portraying mining as the source of the devastation and pollution of the country which some people are falling for hook line and sinker. The DENR Secretary, whoever this will be, should just be strict in the implementation of the Mining Act, Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act and mining could be a good partner in the development of the economy.

    6. I call on my Church, the Catholic Church, thru the CBCP to take a strong stand on this burning issue of mining. You’ve been very vocal against the President’s war on illegal drugs but is deafeningly silent on this serious environmental concern. No less than Pope Francis has made environmental protection an important part of his pastoral. I hope that my Church is not compromised that it fails to speak up.

      • Juan Makisig on

        CBCP has their own agenda, we do not know if they enjoy some perks on the industry of mining. CBCP will care only on issues which they don’t enjoy any perks or privilege such as war on drugs.

    7. Definitely a lot of damage has been done to our environment by mining companies both responsible and irresponsible. But to think that it is not possible for our country to get much from mining like in Australia and Canada is I think a defeatist attitude.

      I sincerely believe that now is the best time, with President Duterte’s political will and Sec. Gina Lopez’ bullheaded vigilance, to correct our past mistakes (mostly by corrupt public officials) and recognize mining for what it really is, a potential big boost to our economy through our struggling manufacturing industries.

      I think the government through DENR, DOST, DTI and the DOF should try to do all that is needed to do to allow us to process the mineral for the use of our industries notably the steel industry, which is vital in building and house construction and car assembling/manufacturing instead of just exporting the raw materials to other countries.

      I also think it is wrong to belittle the mining industry for contributing less than 1% to our economy. (Of course the negative effect should be controlled) How much individually does the car industry, fast food industry, fishing industry etc. contribute to our economy? Is it correct to belittle all industries contributing less than 1% each to our economy?

      And lastly I believe that mining if done properly, scientifically and enough fiscal discipline, can easily contribute to as much as 5% to our economy.

    8. According to Mr. Makabenta, “it is a choice between 1) saving the earth, or 2) killing a mountain.” So much for an even-handed analysis! I have no vested interest in this – other than I don’t want to see the government visiting more misery on the people. I submit that mining and the environment should not be seen as a snapshot, but in a longer-term perspective. Mining is the process of extracting minerals from the earth for conversion into things we cannot do without, and which we use everyday – buildings, cars, computers, fabrics, energy, etc. Open-pit mines are uglier than underground mines, but are much safer. Although open-pit mines are unsightly, once the resource is exhausted a mine can be ‘rehabilitated’ by using money put aside during the mineral extraction process to return it to something approaching its natural state. This is apparently what Gina Lopez has in mind for those mines that she would close – thereby demonstrating that mining need not be an everlasting blight on the countryside. I compare it to an injury I inflicted on myself a few months ago, when I gashed my arm with some broken glass. For a couple of months the gash was very ugly, until the blood congealed and left a very visible scar. With the passage of time, however, the scar is healing and may ultimately disappear. In the same way, we need to help the environment recover from unsightly but necessary mining operations – unless we choose to live a much simpler life without the products of the industrialized society in which we live. But do we really want to live in nipa huts, walk not drive, do without computers, telephones, newspapers, etc?

    9. Gina Lopez is doing a good job for the country. To those in the CA who are acting on vested interests on behalf of the mining oligarchs, please reconsider your stand. Gina should be confirmed and allowed to do her job in a manner that is beneficial to the country.

    10. “Wealth and vegetation go together, and that exacerbates environmental injustice. The poor bear the burden of degraded environments.”
      Natalie Jeremijenko

      “Destroying rainforest for economic gain is like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal.”
      E. O. Wilson

    11. disgrace or 30 pieces of something? what do you choose? given their actions recently, I already know the answer.

    12. to the Commission on Appointments, every time i go home i can see in my plane seat the devastation below due to mining, this is a choice between the mighty green bucks or YOUR OWN ENVIRONMENT! enrich the billionaire Zamora brothers or preserving mother earth! enrich the politicians lobbying to oust loud mouth Gina or be a witness to total destruction of the environment and the indigenous people depending on it, it will be a SHAME to tell our children and future generations that we could have done something but choose to ignore it, our priceless natural resources and its ecologies is NOT OURS to devastate but to preserve. ITS NOW OR NEVER

    13. Esther Ysabel on

      Senator Manny Pacquiao and the members of the CA: Please confirm DENR Secretary Gina Lopez today. This will be your shining moment if you confirm her.

      If you do not confirm her this will be the day that your names will be thrown into the dustbin of ignominy! You will forever be known as the rapists of the beautiful Philippine environment and the murderers of millions of farmers, fishermen, country folks and their families all for your 30 pieces of silver!