• The party’s over

    7

    KATRINA STUART SANTIAGO

    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.

    DENR authority
    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.

    Thank heavens.

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    7 Comments

    1. I salute you Ms. Gina lopez. With all my admiration. I pray to God that He will continue to give you strength of heart and spirit to do your duty with utmost determination.

    2. Too bad president duterte has only less than 4 years in office. These mining conpanies are now like wolves waiting for the victim to put down its guard and then they attack. I hope that the next administration will follow what’s Lopez and Dutere had started i.e. the preservation of our natural resources for the next generation to enjoy.

    3. Dr lourdes Dorion-Diaz on

      I firmly support Sec Lopez . She is doing a great but difficult job all those people who are against it are just thinking of themselves including those in the government. This step will also decrease if not totally stop child labor and abuse. There are govt agencies that have been formed together with ILO has planned livelihood projects for these children and their families

    4. Salamat po sa pagsusulat ninyo tungkol sa pagmamalasakit ng butihing Sekretarya ng DENR sa kalikasan at matigas na paninindigan niya laban sa mga makapangyarihang Minero. Please write more in support of DENR na ngayon lang tunay na nagkaroon pangil sa panahon ng Duterte administration. No doubt that the DENR before Ms. Lopez came and its Bureau of Mines are corrupt.Kung hindi yan kurakot na ahensya wala sanang denuded forest / lands at wala sanang mga illegal loggings sa bansa. Who can stood by the way of the rich and influential miners, the Bureau directors and employees? Comes Ms. Gina Lopez and now these miners cry fouls? SINO PO ang kikilingan natin? I would rather have a very tight enforcer of the environmental laws than the miners claiming losses of revenues and losses of the sources of livelihood. You may lost a source of livelihood for a year, but we lost the forest and nature for years and years.

    5. Thank you for explaining in detail the issue Ms. Santiago. Yes Secretary Gina Lopez must be supported for the good of the Philippines. For too long the rich and powerful have had their way. They should never forget that all their business actions should not be motivated solely by greed, but by an effort to help the people.

    6. Jaime Dela Cruz on

      What Sec.Gina Lopez need to do is investigate the people who granted the “legal” permits to the mining companies. Obviously, there are people in DENR who allowed, or shall we say spoiled these mining brats. Start with SALN and life style check. Anyone who lives beyond their income but have no investments or business revenues must be called on the carpet. Terminate those who cannot satisfactory explain their wealth and confiscate the unexplained assets. I find it laughable that the “rich miners” now are facing another oligarch to stem their greed. Instead of media and the locals opposing the secretary, they should instead get behind Gina and help her stop the rape of their localities by the mining industry.