If there’s anything that’s been absolutely fascinating watching the proceedings for the confirmation of Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Gina Lopez at the Commission on Appointments, it’s how that long list of oppositors have come together solely to discredit her by misinforming the public and evading culpability for the mining crisis.
Mining companies and their advocates and employees want us to forget things. For two days last week, we watched miners and mining interests falling all over themselves trying to make us forget irresponsible mining’s destruction of the environment, displacement of communities, and militarization of sitios and barangays.
So instead of talking about that, the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) insists that Lopez is “someone who does not believe in the Constitution’s mandate for the State to undertake the exploration, development, and utilization of natural resources, and as such, has put us, government’s partners in mineral development, at a quandary” (Feb 9 Statement).
COMP refuses to include that part of the Constitution that says that what happens to our natural resources “shall be under the full control and supervision of the State” (Sec 2). Not under the control of mining companies, or the Chamber of Mines.
The Constitution also states that while the President might enter into these agreements for exploration, development and utilization of minerals, these should happen “according to the general terms and conditions provided by law, based on real contributions to the economic growth and general welfare of the country” (Sec 2).
By law, which would be the various laws that protect the environment. And based on “real contributions” not just to the economy but the “welfare” of nation. These are parts of the Constitution that in fact the current DENR leadership are abiding by.
UP teacher Carlos Arcilla also spoke against Lopez’s confirmation, discrediting her by talking about a Lopez Company pipeline accident from 2010, but also and more importantly, asserting that if all mining should stop in watersheds, then – and I paraphrase here – our economy will die and we will not have raw materials!
In reality, mining contributes little to our economy. Not only are we talking tax breaks and cases where they refuse to pay royalties, we’re also looking at this: in 2013, when mining exports hit $3.4 billion dollars, mining contributed only 0.7% to our GDP, and only 0.7% to total employment (IBON, 16 Feb).
It’s also absurd when academics like Arcilla sow fear by saying we will lose raw materials from these mines. None of those raw materials go to us. All those raw materials mined from our mountains and forests and lands go straight out of the country, and that is also why the repercussions of these mines on our environment, communities, and indigenous peoples are even more indefensible: because all that destruction and violence and for whose benefit?
Certainly not ours.
Instead of discussing how the mines ordered closed have violated our laws, the oppositors seek to discredit Lopez on the basis of questioning her authority to close down mines and effectively cancel contracts.
And yet it is clear across all the pro forma contracts that are up on the Mining and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) website, that government – through the DENR Secretary – has the right to cancel mining contracts. In fact, even the Supreme Court, in its decision on Basiana Mining VS DENR (2016) stated that “the power to approve and enter into agreements or contracts rests primarily with the DENR Secretary. Perforce, the power to cancel an MPSA likewise lies with the DENR Secretary” (page 8).
A Court of Appeals decision (2007) on Celestial Mining Nickel Corp. VS Macroasia Corp., also clarified that “Since the DENR Secretary had the power to approve and cancel mineral agreements under Presidential Decree 463 <Mineral Resources Development Decree of 1974>, and the power to cancel them under the CMAO < Consolidated Mine Administrative Order> implementing PD 463, EO 211, and EO 279, then there was no recall of the power of the DENR Secretary under RA 7942 <the Mining Act>.
Historically, the DENR Secretary has the express power to approve mineral agreements or contracts and the implied power to cancel said agreements. <emphasis mine>.” (Supreme Court Website, 2007)
The same decision cites the Revised Administrative Code of 1987 when it states that the DENR, “has the power to oversee, supervise, and police our natural resources which include mineral resources. Derived from the broad and explicit powers of the DENR and its Secretary under the Administrative Code of 1987 is the power to approve mineral agreements and necessarily to cancel or cause to cancel said agreements.” (Supreme Court Website, 2007)
Not surprisingly, none of the mining companies that have been ordered closed or suspended have talked about their violations of pertinent laws as listed in the technical mining audit results which are all already on the DENR website.
Instead they’ve focused on the insistence that jobs will be lost once these closures happen. But the only reason they can even lay-off workers at this point is because these mines have hired contractual workers, without benefits, without security of tenure, and with every reason to terminate their services if the mine’s profit margin might turn out lower than expected.
The truth is, these mines can afford to keep their workers until final closure happens. And they can also afford to hire these workers for the rehabilitation program that is expected of them once the mine closes. It’s really a matter of what matters more to these mining companies: their workers’ lives, or profits?
Speaking of what matters, COMP says in its statement that since they “can’t just go into any area and mine any which way they want,” that this means that “if mining companies violate the law, is it not also a case of regulatory failure, where for lack of vigilance, manpower, and/or political will, spillage, siltation, and pollution happen?”
Sure, there was a lack of regulation in the past – and even that much Lopez agrees. But now that there will be regulation, now that the DENR has found mines to be in violation of pertinent laws, now that the DENR has decided in favor of people, environment, and nation instead of in favor of destructive big business, how is the DENR still to blame?
Only the mining companies, the COMP, and those UP academics earning from mines could be so blind to this travesty. We expect better from the Senators and Congress Reps at the CA.
Published in The Manila Times, 12 March 2017.