It is difficult to stay calm when you’re watching the Commission on Appointments proceedings for the confirmation of Gina Lopez as Environment Secretary. It doesn’t help that at the center of it all, the Chairman of the Committee for the Environment is Manny Pacquiao who, without a script, reveals himself as utterly incompetent and totally lost — he can’t even keep up with the concept itself of what the DENR does, the laws that it protects and moves within, the fact that these mines were are talking about actually have a history of violence against the community and of environmental degradation.
Ah, but Pacquiao has the Bible, from which he quotes: “For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land <…> a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.”
So therefore daw, mining is okay.
Today, he also said that the confirmation of Sec Gina will be bypassed because she cannot go to the third day of facing her oppositors next week as she has a pre-scheduled trip abroad. And really, if I were her, I wouldn’t sacrifice that trip either. What, to face these people who are not even telling us all about the interests they protect, who are not even talking about the environmental degradation of mines, the livelihood already lost, the militarization of communities in the name of protecting these mines? Who are not even admitting to the FACT that these mines might been given permits, sure, and they might even be ISO-certified, but none of that means they are actually following our laws on and for environment.
Not to mention laws on human rights.
Here, an article on Sta. Cruz Zambales mines LNL Archipelago Minerals Inc. (LAMI), Zambales Diversified Metals Corp., Benguet Corp, Eramen Minerals Inc., which has a history of abusing the environment, and therefore the people in the communities that surround these mines, and which DENR has ordered closed as per its mining audit. Note that not only does a history of these mines’ abuses exist, there is also a history of protest against these mines, and most importantly: the Supreme Court issued a Writ of Kalikasan against these four mines in 2016:
In March 2016, the Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC) released the results of its fact-finding mission done after the October 2015 flooding, and declared that “the ecological destruction caused by the decade-long nickel mining in Sta. Cruz aggravates the impact of natural calamities” (Bulatlat.com, March 4, 2016).
In May 2016, COSS filed for a writ of kalikasan against Benguet Corp, Eramen, LNL, and Zambales Diversified, plus one other mine (Manila Times, May 21, 2016). On June 21, 2016, the Supreme Court issued the writ of kalikasan, ordering the affected mining firms to prove that they were not hurting the environment (Rappler.com, June 21, 2016).
Oceana Gold is another mining company that has dared question the DENR’s closure orders even when it has a history not only of environmental law violations, but also of human rights violations. They took over people’s homes, and people’s lands. They brought in guards that disallowed the community from taking from the forests. The wildlife and sealife in the areas around the mine have disappeared, the waters are polluted, the ricefields unproductive. Ah, but the arrogance of this mining company knows no bounds:
In February, Oceana Gold shot back at the DENR suspension saying that it “is unjustified nor has any basis in law” (3 Feb, Manila Standard).
Well, what about the justification and basis in the community itself, in the environmental degradation, the loss of our forests and mountains?
No matter how Oceana Gold spins it, its history is replete with proof of its irresponsibility, investigations on it, protests against it. That is not only enough reason to close it down. It’s also enough reason for Oceana Gold to tone down its arrogance.
The Chamber of Mines insists that Sec. Lopez is anti-mining, and therefore should not be at the DENR. On the contrary: it is because she is pro-environment that she should be at the DENR. Because all these years, mines have gotten away with *murder* because the DENR secretaries were pro-mining, pro-money, pro-investments, and ultimately anti-people.
The Chamber of Mines would also like us to forget that in fact, while mines were ordered closed, many others passed the audit:
And when COMP insists that the closure of 23 mines is equal to Secretary Lopez “finally revealing her true bias: to stop all mining in the Philippines” (BusinessMirror, 6 Feb), do they deliberately fail to point out that 12 mining companies passed the audit, with one suspension deferred pending the DENR Secretary’s personal visit to the site (GMANewsOnline, 2 Feb)?
They discredit Sec. Lopez for not knowing what she’s talking about, asserting that only “critical watersheds” are to be protected, insisting that the DENR has no power to just cancel exploration permits and close down or suspend mines in the name of protecting our watersheds.
But in fact the laws are clear about this as well. First, the DENR “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.”
Second, the Mining Act itself states under Areas Closed to Mining Operations “proclaimed watershed forest reserves” among “other areas expressly prohibited under the National Integrated Protected Area System (NIPAS) or Republic Act 7586.” (see Sec 19)
And what falls under NIPAS? All watersheds of course (see Sec 5-1).
Can DENR cancel contracts and exploration permits? Of course! The exploration permit itself has a clause that states: “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 truth is all this noise surrounding Sec. Lopez’s appointment as DENR Secretary is borne only of mining companies feeling like they are being given the shorter end of the stick — even when they have had the longer end of that same stick for the past four Presidents. The truth is all of this is only a distraction from the fact that many mines have been irresponsible all these years, but have gotten away with it given the complicity of government officials who have not cared enough about the suffering of communities and the degradation of the environment.
There is absolutely no one else who could take a stand against these mines other than Gina Lopez. She has nothing to lose nor gain, and she has the privilege to be incorruptible, which makes her even scarier to mining businesses that have gotten used to getting away with pretty much anything with past DENR leaderships.
And yes, it takes a woman. Thank you very much.
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.