The Envi-Vote Alliance is a coalition of environmental advocates united to pursue an environmental agenda for the voters and for the political candidates vying for elective positions. The People’s Environmental Agenda, today dubbed as the ‘Green Vote’, contained positions and demands on the most pressing issues affecting the Philippine environment.
As part of Green Vote’s scrutiny, we looked into the vice presidentiables’ records and stands on key and urgent environmental issues that need to be addressed. This article discusses the first part of the research on the candidates’ stand on large-scale mining, GMO crops, and Edca.
1. Large-scale mining
Most candidates favor the continuation of the existing policy of Mining Act of 1995. No candidate is calling for its junking which the environmentalists and mining-affected people point out as the framework which legalizes the plunder of our mineral resources. At best, the candidates, who are all legislators, are calling for environmental reforms under the Mining Act, yet have not filed a single resolution proposing it.
Sen. Allan Peter Cayetano, who is considered to be a potential ‘Champion’ of the mining industry, explained in the Mining Philippines 2014 conference that the mining industry can no longer afford to look inward. He demonstrated preference for large-scale mining. During his run for senator in 2013, Jose Bayani Baylon, senior vice president for corporate communications of Nickel Asia Corp, donated P7 million to his campaign. Cayetano also has an office in Nickel Asia building.
Sen. Bongbong Marcos agrees with economists that mining can become a key driver to economic growth of the country but stresses that mining practices should be tempered with proper regulation and close monitoring. Marcos has sought a cohesive, long-term mining policy to maximize the benefits of the vibrant industry. According to him, the next administration should do away with its anti-mining policy and come up with a balance mining plan that would maximize the potential of the country’s mining industry.
Leni Robredo lauded President Noynoy Aquino for issuing Executive Order 79 which strengthened further the Mining Act and gave more privileges to corporate mining. She pointed out that there must be an extensive revision of the law.
Sen. Gringo Honasan said opportunities from mining should be balanced with its impact on the environment. He called on President Noynoy Aquino to provide clearer direction on mining and stressed that this is the job of the national government and Congress by way of amendment to the law, and if necessary, a new law.
Sen. Chiz Escudero during his visit to Nueva Vizcaya on November 2015 has called on LGUs to strictly enforce the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992 (NIPAS Act) to stop destructive mining activities. According to him, if the LGU officials want to protect their areas from what they deem as naturally destructive activities like mining, they must strictly enforce the NIPAS Act. Escudero is not against mining but according to him, operations should comply with environmental and labor laws. Escudero seeks harsh penalties for violators of mining laws. He said the government should impose stronger penalties and stiffer fines on unscrupulous mining companies who violate the country’s mining laws.
Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV said he will ask the Senate Committee on Environment to review the Philippine Mining Act amidst complaints by LGUs over unfair sharing of benefits from the exploration and utilization of their natural resources.
2. GMO crops
Genetically modified organism (GMO) were proven to pose high risk to human health and in contaminating the agricultural biodiversity. The Supreme Court has recently banned the commercialization of GMO until a strong regulation ensures both environmental and health safety.
Only Senator Honasan has proposed legislation to regulate or prohibit GMO imports, and make labelling mandatory.
3. US-PH Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca)
Edca has allowed the US to again station their forces in military bases in several parts of the Philippines. Implemented with Visiting Forces Agreement, their military equipment, hardware and weapons are also allowed to enter and station here. With Edca, environmentalists expect more environmental incidents like USS Guardian grounding on Tubbataha Reef and Subic Bay toxic waste dumping.
Among the VP candidates, only Leni Robredo has no stance or record on Edca. Senators Escudero, Honasan, Marcos all acquiesced with the Supreme Court that Edca is constitutional. Senators Trillanes and Cayetano are staunch Edca supporters and do not believe that Senate ratification is needed before it is implemented.
Sen. Cayetano explained that the US ought to help improve the Philippines’ defense capabilities so that funds allocated by the Philippine government for that purpose could be used for social services and economic development. Sen. Trillanes, a former Navy officer, said the agreement would lessen the Philippine government’s expenses on modernizing the military.
I think it is not accurate to say EO 79 further strengthened the Mining Law since government or the executive branch wanted to review the onerous, lopsided 2% tax.