After failing to enact a controversial National Minerals Policy (NMP) due to widespread opposition by environmental groups and mining-affected communities, the government changed tact. Out of the blue, it issued last week Executive Order 270 which it says aims to promulgate a Minerals Action Plan within 90 days to revitalize the mining industry. But NGOs and people’s organizations opposed to the NMP see this as a “ramming through” of the NMP and a violation of Philippine sovereignty.
By ELY MANALANSAN
While Mines and Geo-Sciences Bureau (MGB) Undersecretary Demetriou Ignacio was telling a small informal gathering of “civil society” groups that Malacañang will shortly issue a new executive order to revitalize the mining industry, on the same day last Jan. 16, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signed Executive Order 270.
Billed as an act declaring as a national policy the revitalization of the mining industry, E.O. 270 outlines the government’s policy thrusts on mining. Macapagal-Arroyo last year declared a policy shift from tolerance to active promotion of mining.
As a state policy, E.O. 270 calls for the promotion of mining and measures toward bearing in mind the “sensitivities” of Filipino culture and Philippine sovereignty. The order likewise seeks to implement Republic Act 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, a much-criticized law that gives foreigners the right of 100 percent ownership to mineral lands for 25 years, subject only to a minimum investment of P50 million.
Questions on the constitutionality of R.A. 7942 are currently pending before the Supreme Court. The law contradicts constitutional restrictions that bar foreigners from owning land in the Philippines and limit foreign equity in any commercial or business interests in the country to 40 percent.
Macapagal-Arroyo’s new E.O. directs government agencies, led by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), to formulate a Minerals Action Plan (MAP) within 90 days. The MAP shall have the following policy guidelines:
·Recognition of the critical role of investments in mining;
·Institution of environmental safeguards on mining;
·Promotion of small scale mining;
·Social equity concerns in mining communities;
·Remediation and rehabilitation of abandoned mines as top priority; and
·Promotion of “value-adding” for the development of downstream industries
Ignacio admitted earlier the rough sailing of the National Minerals Plan (NMP) because of “diametrically opposed” views by industry players, on the one hand, and environmental and mining-affected groups, on the other.
The government failed to get a consensus thus the shelving of the NMP. The government failed even to get the endorsement of civil society groups under the Philippine Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD), a government body.
Ignacio said that to solve the impasse, the government, through the DENR, took the initiative to find “areas of convergence” between the disparate stakeholders. Thus, during the National Minerals Conference sponsored by the DENR and the World Bank last Dec. 3-4 at the Holiday Inn Galleria in Ortigas, Pasig City, he said, while there was no formal agreement taken by participants from the mining industry and members of civil society, the DENR said there are certain areas where the two protagonists were saying the same things.
What they did, Ignacio said, was to bring these common concerns of the stakeholders. And the result, he added, is a draft executive order that the president signed.
Groups opposing the NMP hailed what happened as a “tactical victory” for the people who, while not opposed to mining per se, would want certain changes.
However, some groups, while not surprised over the government’s action are crying foul with the declaration of E.O. 270.
Center for Environmental Concern-Philippines (CEC) Executive Director Frances Quimpo, in a statement urging other NGOs and mining-affected peoples to reject E.O. 270, called the government’s action as “a clear betrayal of the national interest.”
Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE) also criticized E.O. 270 for promoting R.A. 7942 which it said belies the order’s declaration that it supposedly respects Philippine sovereignty.
“How can E.O. 270 claim to respect Philippine sovereignty when it is anchored on R.A. 7942 that is disrespectful of Philippine sovereignty and the Philippine Constitution,” says Kalikasan-PNE national coordinator Clemente Bautista.
Quimpo, on the other hand, found it akin to “back stabbing” that even while the government is supposedly engaged in consulting the people on the NMP, it issued E.O. 270 that in effect also puts in place the NMP.
Quimpo’s criticism is shared by Bong Corpuz of Tebtebba Foundation who also finds the president’s declaration of E.O. 270 “deceitful.” In an e-mail to Kalikasan-PNE which Bautista shared to Bulatlat.com, Corpuz disclosed that the contents of E.O. 270 are similar to what the DENR asked civil society groups present during the December conference to fill out, supposedly to get the stakeholders’ views on several issues regarding the NMP.
It would appear that the president’s new executive order on mining is beginning to re-inflame sore spots among the various stakeholders on mining.
Expectedly, the government and mining industry big-wigs want to cash in on an encouraging rise in world mineral prices, particularly gold and copper, which has reportedly increased to more than $400 and $100 per ounce, respectively.
On the other hand, environmental NGOs and mining-affected people’s organizations are likewise after developing and harnessing the country’s rich mineral resources for the country’s development. But not at the expense of the people, their environment, and worse, only to benefit the few local mining barons and mining transnational corporations.