“Maintaining healthy watersheds in these areas will guarantee that our population will have an adequate, clean and safe water supply for irrigation and domestic water needs.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Environment Secretary Gina Lopez’s order to cancel mineral production sharing agreements located in watersheds is continuing to draw praises and support from multisectoral groups. They appreciated what they call as Lopez’s brave and unprecedented move.
“Despite the destruction, protests, and human rights violations throughout the years, none of her predecessors in DENR had the guts to go against big mining interests,” Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said in a statement.
On Tuesday, Valentine’s Day, Environment Secretary Lopez detailed in a press briefing the department’s “gift” of life, its decision to cancel at least 75 Mineral Production Sharing Agreements (MPSA) or mining permits all over the country.
According to DENR, there are 37 MPSAs in Mindanao, 11 in Visayas and 27 in Luzon that will be canceled.
On appeals for “due process” by the mining companies, Lopez said canceling their permits is based on the law and the environment department had followed due process every step of the way.
On lobbyists’ reminders about the billion-peso investments brought in by mining companies, the environment secretary said what many environmentalists had been saying for years: “We don’t want investments that are ‘raping’ us. We want investments that will help us, that will pay our people well.”
She said it is the role of government to take the middle path and make sure everyone benefits.
So far, not just based on their audit but also based on what many people’s organizations have been striving to bring to light for years now, the benefits in mining have largely been one-sided in favor of mining companies.
“If mining is so good, why is Caraga still the poorest region?” Lopez asked. The environment secretary also cited the irreparable loss in water and biodiversity due to mining.
“Maintaining healthy watersheds in these areas will guarantee that our population will have an adequate, clean and safe water supply for irrigation and domestic water needs,” Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE, said in a statement.
In another statement, Gabriela Party Rep. Emmi de Jesus expressed support for DENR Sec. Lopez’s moves against certain miners. She stressed its correctness by recalling how the Philippines, having been mined for decades, has “had tragic experiences of rivers and reservoirs being damaged and made toxic due to mine operations all over the country.”
Filipinos lose not just their water, minerals, lands and forests due to mining. According to Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas, “the people’s defense of their lands from environmental plunder has resulted in the deaths of tribal leaders and anti-mining activists.”
Under the Aquino administration, troops had been deployed to openly protect mining interests.
To strengthen regulation of mining
Various groups suggested projects that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) can pursue to follow up on its ban of disruptive mining, especially in watershed areas.
Even as these groups criticized the Chamber of Mines for “bullying” Environment Sec. Lopez, they urged Lopez to press ahead. In various statements, they gave the following as the secretary’s logical steps following the selective mining ban toward successfully defending the environment and watershed areas:
1. Repeal Mining Act of 1995 and push for the People’s Mining Bill or HB 2715 in Congress
The rationale, as Gabriela Rep. Brosas explained, is that “The extraction of our country’s mineral resources must primarily serve and benefit our communities and not multinational corporations and big business interests.”
A new progressive mining policy will strengthen the mandate of the current thrust to effectively regulate mining and balance environmental protection, national development, and people’s rights, said Bautista of Kalikasan PNE.
2. Pursue agricultural projects, other livelihood for the benefit of local farmers and residents
Compared to the productivity in agriculture and other more sustainable land uses once threats of mining plunder and destruction are removed, the projected revenue and employment losses cited by mining industry players are ‘miniscule,’ said Bautista of Kalikasan PNE.
He said agriculture and fisheries would be more productive once the government actually took steps to stop denuding our forests, polluting our waters and killing off our biodiversity. This will improve livelihood opportunities for our farmers and fisherfolk, said Bautista.
3. Provide aid and alternative livelihood to mine workers
Kalikasan PNE urged the other government offices to work with the DENR in cushioning the immediate impacts of the mining crackdown to its workers by providing aid and alternative livelihood.
“The P2 billion aid announced by President Rodrigo Duterte for displaced mine workers can be coursed through the Department of Social Welfare and Development. Agencies for rural development such as the Department of Agriculture and Department of Agrarian Reform can help mining communities by distributing land and support services to the displaced mining communities,” said Bautista.
4. Demand accountability from mining companies, government officials involved
Environment and rights defenders working with Philippine Misereor Partnership, Inc. (PMPI) said in another statement that aside from closure and suspension of mining companies, the government must also hold these companies responsible for the damages to the natural resources and surrounding ecosystems they have committed.
Aside from canceling mining permits, the department should also investigate how these mining companies got the permits and were able to operate on watershed and critical habitats, said Sherwin De Vera, regional coordinator of the Ilocos Network for the Environment (DEFEND Ilocos), an environmental protection advocacy group.
5. Protect the environmental defenders
Noting how the environment secretary herself is being “bullied” for her defense of the country’s watershed, environmentalists requested greater vigilance in monitoring and documenting human rights violations in mining-affected communities and among the environmental and rights groups.
“The danger of allowing corporations, especially mining companies to fund political campaigns is that, profit-driven entities are given clout over national policies, making our laws and economic thrust more favorable to greed than people’s welfare,” said DEFEND Ilocos. They called the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP)’s attempt to block Lopez’s confirmation as environment secretary as an “act of a bully”.
Unfortunately, pressuring lawmakers to turn down the likes of Lopez is not the only thing COMP has been doing, said the environmentalists’ network. They said the chamber also funds the military “to make way and protect their investments at the expense communities”.
De Vera said this is why in most areas with mining operations there is also a large contingent of government troops and plenty of cases of human rights violations.