On Valentine’s Day, Secretary Gina Lopez of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) announced that her department was cancelling 75 MPSAs or Mineral Production Sharing Agreements with mining companies. Many of these projects are only in the exploration stage. The cancellation of MPSAs will not mean the loss of jobs.
But of course the mining companies, the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP), and pro-mining advocates will not take this sitting down.
The law and watersheds
Many of the questions thrown at the Secretary and her DENR team on that press conference showed a clear bias for the mining companies, where the line of questioning was pretty much stuck on asking about the DENR’s authority to make these decisions, and the “scientific” basis of these cancellations.
The answer, at least to me, seemed simple enough. It was about the DENR enforcing the law, which is based on the science that seeks to protect certain areas against environmental abuse and degradation. The answer that the DENR kept repeating was this one: these MPSAs were granted even when these mining projects are in watersheds.
The media would have none of it. Even when the answers from the DENR team were calmly and objectively delivered, even when it was a discussion about the value of watersheds – which is obviously based on science – none of it was being heard.
But reading the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, it is clear even to me that it is based on science, given how it includes a set of rules for protecting the environment against mining projects, given its acknowledgment of the probable/possible adverse effects of mining on the environment – all of which would be based on scientific proof of both.
Section 19 lists down Areas Closed to Mining Operations, and it includes “proclaimed watershed forest reserves” among “other areas expressly prohibited under the National Integrated Protected Area System (NIPAS) or Republic Act 7586. Watersheds are of course part of NIPAS, which makes all watersheds protected areas.
Are 75 cancellations too much?
The pro-mining groups and the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines have insisted that this is too drastic a move, that it is impossible that 75 mining projects are in violation of any law, which would warrant the cancellation of their MPSAs.
Yet this would only be impossible to people who refuse to admit that ultimately, while there is the law and the rule and regulations for acquiring any government permit at all, that where we come from, the acquisition of permits can be as simple as finding the loopholes in the law. It’s through those loopholes that the illegal can be made legal, which could explain why there are mining permits for watersheds, which are protected areas under the law.
In a 2004 report by Earthworks and Oxfam America, a loophole is made more concrete: “One reason that it’s difficult to keep mining out of protected areas is that the boundaries of these areas are often poorly defined. This is a common problem in some parts of the Pacific region, which has relatively few protected areas and many major mines. In the Philippines, for example, mining is prohibited in intact forests and protected areas, yet approximately a third of all mining concessions overlap with these areas. (That figure covers both exploratory and active concessions.)”
In 2006, a fact-finding mission report on the state of mining in the Philippines, which was done by six human rights and environmental groups from the UK, also talked about this overlap and how it endangers the environment, our watersheds, and our communities: “In the Philippines, many mining and exploration concessions overlap watershed areas where demand for water exceeds the available supply. Mining in these areas would therefore be likely to compete with the needs of other users, including farmers and households, for scarce water. Many mining sites are located on mountains that act as watersheds for numerous rivers, potentially compounding the threat.”
To me, those 75 cancellations actually finally address the above crises of overlaps between mining contracts and protected areas.
And it’s about time.
When Atty. Ipat Luna succinctly and perfectly answered that question about the DENR Secretary’s authority to close down the mines and cancel these contracts, by pointing out what is enshrined in the law, there were no follow-up questions, but the badgering of Secretary Lopez continued.
And so it bears repeating. Under Chapter II, Section 8 of the Mining Act: “The Department shall be the primary agency responsible for the conservation, management, development, and proper use of the State’s mineral resources including those in reservations, watershed areas, and lands of the public domain.”
Can the DENR cancel these 75 MPSAs? Absolutely. From the MPSA itself as published on the Mines and Geosciences Bureau website: “This Agreement terminates or may be terminated for the following causes: <…> (f) any other cause or reason provided under the Act and its implementing rules and regulations, or any other relevant laws and regulations.”
The more one watches the mining sector trying to paint itself as victim of DENR and Secretary Lopez, the more one sees how the sector is behaving like a spoiled brat used to getting its way, regardless of the law. And now that the law is being enforced, they cannot even defend themselves and say that what they’re doing does not harm the environment and our communities in any way.
Lest they have yet to see the writing on the wall: the party’s over.