Expectedly, the confirmation of Environment Sec. Regina Lopez is encountering rough sailing before the powerful Commission on Appointments. The Chamber of Mines has submitted a formal letter of opposition to the confirmation of her appointment.
It would not be surprising if the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce (JFC) in the Philippines is also lobbying against Environment Secretary Lopez considering that even before the May 2016 elections, it already pushed for 100 percent foreign ownership of mining operations and a 50-year guarantee of contracts against any changes, unless mutually agreed upon. But, of course, the JFC would not expose its hand in opposing Secretary Lopez, lest it be accused of foreign meddling.
What is the reason for blocking the confirmation of Environment Sec. Regina Lopez?
After an audit of 41 mining operations, she ordered the closure of 23 mines and the suspension of operations of 5 mines. These were found to be violating environmental laws. Of the 23 mining operations recommended for closure, 15 are in watershed areas.
The Philippine Chamber of Mines is crying for “due process.” A lot of these mining companies have been operating for years. The issue is no longer about due process; it is about whether or not they have violated environmental laws.
What is wrong with open pit mining? Simple, it carves out whole mountains and farms and displaces indigenous peoples and farmers and deprives them of their sources of livelihood.
What is wrong with coal mining and coal power plants? It causes upper respiratory diseases.
What is wrong with mine spills? It destroys streams, rivers, and farms and deprives the people in the area of their livelihood and causes cancer, skin problems and other illnesses resulting from the contamination of water that the people use for their daily lives.
What is wrong with mining near watersheds and risking the contamination of the people’s water supply? Everything.
Environment Sec. Regina Lopez was spot on when she said, “My issue here is not about mining, my issue here is social justice…Why is mining more important than people’s lives?”
The opposition of big mining companies, foreign and local, is so strong that it resulted in a debate within the Cabinet of the Duterte administration. The most vocal in castigating Environment Sec. Lopez is Finance Sec. Carlos Dominguez.
Finance Secretary Dominguez was quoted saying: “You know, being a secretary is not being a crusader. Being secretary is balancing the needs of different sectors of society…. Some groups win and some groups lose. You just make sure your decisions…are good for the majority.
Well, Finance Sec. Dominguez has to be reminded that Rodrigo Roa Duterte won the presidency on the slogan: “Change is coming.” The advocacy for change is basically a crusade. In fact, the country does not need more Cabinet secretaries who tend to “balance” the needs of different sectors within the framework of the status quo; it needs more government officials who have the courage to challenge the status quo and tilt the balance in favor of the interests and rights of majority of the Filipino people.
When we say “majority of the Filipino people,” it should mean the poor, working people who comprise the majority. Government officials, big business, and proponents of neoliberal economics are wont to claim “what is good for business is good for the economy,” and by extension “good for the people.” On the contrary, the interests of big business are not always aligned with that of the people.
A good example of this is mining. Mining operations have destroyed whole mountains and forests and have polluted watersheds, rivers and other water sources.
While, according to Ibon Foundation, only 3 percent of minerals extracted from the country benefit local industries, the bulk, comprising 97 percent, are being exported.
“The share of mining in the gross domestic product is only 0.7%, while its contribution to employment is only at 0.6%. Government shares from mining in taxes, royalties and fees amounted to Php22.83 billion in 2013 or a measly 1.33% of total tax revenues.”
President Duterte was reportedly searching for a “happy compromise” that would appease both Environment Secretary Lopez and mining companies.
Well, in the first place, extractive mining for export should be totally banned. The social and environmental costs of extractive mining for export are very high while the benefits to the economy and the Filipino people are insignificant. In stead, prudent use of the country’s non-renewable resources should be enforced and mining should be geared toward primarily serving the needs of the domestic economy and local industries or in other words, genuine national development.