Was Gina Lopez actually pushing for responsible mining?
All told, mining contributes about less than 1% of our Gross Domestic Product. That translates to a value of almost $2 billion of the $292 billion GDP, and employs about 400,000 Filipinos, most of which dwell in the countryside.
While that figure is challenged by many sectors, consider that this does not include the proceeds from the illegal mining taking place in various localities in Mindanao; including them will push these figures even higher.
We can always argue that illegal mining should be stopped, but when you think of the thousands of livelihoods fed by such activities, then we would probably consider the so-called Minahang Bayan and the people’s small scale mining programs pushed by the Left to legalize and provide occupational health and environmental safeguards for the undocumented miners.
Moreover, as a volcanic country in the Pacific Ring of Fire, science tells us that many minerals routinely come nearer to the surface due to the earth’s natural movements. This makes mining them easier. Thus, when humans discovered that metals can be useful, mining was born. They say it even predates agriculture, making mining the world’s second oldest profession. Minerals, therefore, are a natural endowment.
That said, wisdom dictates that we cannot have arbitrary bans on mining. If we do, we will have to import our cement, a bigger portion of our steel, and many of the products used by our businesses, schools and, yes, churches. With a total prohibition we can kiss our manufacturing, already growing at a paltry 10% of GDP, goodbye.
And doing so will also remove the lifelines of thousands in the mountains who cannot afford nor qualify to work in call centers. Locally sourced and processed materials add value to our economy, and employ Filipinos by the millions.
Much of the opposition to mining has to do with the wide swaths of land that need to be carved up to make open pits. Moreover, the various Surigao nickel mines the ex-environment secretary Gina Lopez visited displayed practices that even the Australian miners frown upon. This is why she had vigorously opposed open pit mining.
In fairness to her, she didn’t order the closure of ALL mines. Some 11 out of 20 large scale mines passed the audit, though there are some concerns that these exercises were not objectively prepared. Before she was rejected by the Commission on Appointments, she started talking more vigorously about “working more closely with the mining companies.”
As early as September, she spelled out her policy about dealing with mining companies when she described why some of them passed while others failed: “They are running their operations much better than the others. However, in efforts to get better, even if they passed, I still want to talk to them and push them a little better,”
Through social media, we have been able to parse these statements and fact check them more accurately. Government’s statements are not the only ones media should re-read. This medium gives us the opportunity to check on the words of Leila de Lima, Antonio Trillanes and even people like Bayan’s Renato Reyes and NGOs.
Surfacing the substance, what we have seen thus far in Lopez’s DENR term is that despite what certain quarters say for or against her positions on this industry, there was a willingness and an attempt to be tough yet judicious and to work with the companies.
With this, to say that she was anti-mining per se may be inaccurate.
The truth is, many environmental advocates just don’t like mining, period, in the same way that many of the President’s detractors hate him to his core, no matter what he does. This smacks of a subtle bigotry that today’s more open society should eschew, as it muddles the issues by placing hard differentiations to stymie whatever dialogue could take place for everyone’s benefit—even the miners in the hinterlands, and the downstream industries that can employ millions.
This desire for a tough yet balanced approach may yet rub off on her successor Roy Cimatu, and the other cabinet members she leaves behind who committed to proper reviews of the remaining mining companies.
In the end, after the congressional rejection of Lopez, it is useful to look at policies and how they will play out to make mining and other industries more responsible—to be both business and environment friendly. That’s what matters more.
Come to think of it, the fact that the tough reviews and scrutiny of mining operations are taking place and are committed to continue is a win for this government—something their predecessors failed to do.
In a speech before the Philippine Extractive industries Transparency Initiative, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez who heads the governments economic team put this succinctly: "One could be environment-friendly and business-friendly at the same time. They are not mutually exclusive inclinations. Only the zealots think they are."