Note: After the President said “lobby money talks” given the CA’s denial of Gina Lopez’s confirmation as DENR Secretary, Malacañang clarified: “when he said lobby, it’s not necessarily (about) money.”
It is hilarious hearing members of the Commission on Appointments (CA) trying to defend themselves against reports that there was a meeting between members of Congress and mining company Citinickel the night before the decision was made to deny the confirmation of DENR Secretary Gina Lopez.
First on the list of adamant denials: San Juan’s Ronaldo Zamora. As if he’d need to be spoken to by any mining company at all.
The Zamora-mining connection
His older brother Manuel Zamora is founder and chairman of Nickel Asia Corporation. The same Nickel Asia that in 2011 was criticized for not settling royalty fees with indigenous peoples affected by mining activities, for refusing to address environmental degradation brought about by its mines, and refusing to raise mine workers’ wages (GMA News, 11 Oct 2011) in its mines in Surigao.
The Environmental Justice Atlas (https://ejatlas.org) says of Nickel Asia’s Taganito Mine: “Militarization, environmental destruction of indigenous lands and unpaid royalties: the ingredients of Taganito Mining Corporation’s corporate success.”
We could go as far back as 2002, and talk about Nickel Asia’s Hinatuan mine and its implication in issues of human rights and environmental law violations; instead let’s talk about 2016, when Eastern Samar Governor Conrado Nicart ordered the closure of the Hinatuan Mine in Manicani after the community protested against its resumption of operations (Inquirer.net, 17 June 2016).
Soon after, in early July, Sec Gina had ordered Nickel Asia to stop the transfer of stockpiles from this same mine, which they transport straight to China. They had earned enough money from the mine, she said, it was time to work towards bringing back the ecology in the area (Business World, 21 July 2016).
We could go on and on about the conflict of interest of having Rep. Zamora as part of the body that will decide on Sec Gina’s appointment to the DENR. And yes, I don’t think he had to talk to Citinickel to vote against her. He just had to be himself.
THAT is our bigger crisis.
The Albanos and the environment
In 2011, Rep Rodolfo Albano Jr. (not current Rep Rodolfo Albano III), filed a bill seeking to “set aside 11,273 hectares of the Sierra Madre forests in Ilagan and Divilacan towns in Isabela to be reclassified as ‘mineral land open for exploration, development and utilization of mineral deposits’” (Inquirer, 8 Feb 2011). The bone of contention was the fact that this area is part of the Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park (NSMNP) a declared protected area.
At that time, the NSMNP was included in “the tentative list of the United Nations’ World Heritage Convention (UN-WHC) for possible declaration as a world heritage site for being ‘the largest protected area in the country and the richest in terms of genetic, species, and habitat diversity.’”
This was the area Rep Albano wanted to open to mining explorations and projects, citing that this is “in accordance with a declared policy that it is the responsibility of the state to promote the national exploration, development, utilization and conservation of mineral resources” (Inquirer, 8 Feb 2011).
Purported “development” (as well as tourism) was also what was used to justify the P2.28 billion peso Sierra Madre road project, which would cut across four towns, and “traverse the NSMNP (Philippine Star, 4 Feb 2013). In 2014, this would be called a “repair” of the existing logging road, after facing protests the previous year given the road construction’s “potential impact on the environment” (Inquirer, 18 Oct 2014). In 2015, the construction of the road continued despite protests, with the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) having issued Resolution No. 11 to reclassify the portion of the protected area of NSMNP as a special-use zone, and the indigenous groups of Agta and Dumagat signing a MOA with the Isabela government agreeing to the road construction (Inquirer, 25 Nov 2015).
But by October 2016, tribal leaders were calling on President Duterte and Sec Gina to help protect the Sierra Madre forests, as the Ilagan-Divilacan road would “lead to the cutting of tens of thousands of trees that would further degrade the environment,” and there were dam projects in Quezon and Nueva Vizcaya that could “potentially cause irreversible damage to Sierra Madre’s landscape, watersheds, and natural irrigation systems.” The group also talked about how legal and illegal logging have continued in the protected areas, as well as “artisanal and small-scale mining and quarrying activities” (Business Mirror, 6 Oct 2016).
While the Albanos have not gotten any media mileage on this critical and urgent environmental issue, one realizes that this can only be taken to mean consent. After all the alliance between the Albanos and Isabela Governor Faustino Dy III – the one who has pushed for these “developments” towards “tourism” in the Sierra Madre protected areas – is already considered “powerful,” having unseated popular anti-logging and pro-people leader Grace Padaca in 2016 (Manila Standard, 20 Feb 2017).
News has it in fact that these two Isabela dynasties might be making moves to push for dividing Isabela into two: one for the Albanos, and one for the Dys (Manila Standard, 20 Feb 2017).
Ah, nothing like dynasties and alliances to ensure that anti-people, anti-environment policies continue, whatever name you call it: roads, mining, logging, “development,” “tourism.” In a protected area, a possible world heritage site, imagine the kind of damage this kind of alliance has already done.
And you think a mining company needed to talk to the current Rep Albano so that he might vote against the confirmation of Sec Gina, staunch environmentalist, to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources?
Research reveals how Rep Albano would vote from the get-go. The question is, as with Rep Zamora, why were they part of the CA for DENR Secretary to begin with? ***
Published in The Manila Times, 7 May 2017.