Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 11 February 2017


Department of Environment and Natural Resources—the full name is given, instead of just DENR—Secretary Gina Lopez is really taking to heart what her department is tasked to do: ensure that our environment and our natural resources are managed so that the country is on an inclusive, sustainable development path.

Is she bent on killing the mining industry? I don’t think so. What she seems bent on doing is preventing some elements of the mining industry from killing the poor. And if in so doing, she also manages to assure that  the government gets its fair share of mining profits because the state owns all the natural resources in the country, then so much the better.

Gina has been the focus of media attention because she had the shameless audacity—the impudence, as it were—to take on the mining industry: suspending  the operations of five mining companies (giving them six months to either shape up or ship out), and announcing the cancellation of the mining contracts/permits of 23 others, while, however, giving her imprimatur to 11 others to continue operations.

Understand, Reader, that this was done, according to a DENR document titled “Summary of Mine Audit Results,” only after an audit of these metallic mines was conducted by technical experts of her department, other government agencies, and civil society organizations… Near the end of October, she then provided each of the audited mines copies of the audit and required each to submit its comments and/or explanations within 15 days from receipt thereof.

Their formal responses were then duly reviewed by Gina and her colleagues. Moreover, a ground validation was conducted early this year to “ensure that all pertinent facts were considered and the pertinent issues addressed.”

Only then did Gina lower the boom on the erring companies, whose mistake, I think, from 20-20 hindsight, was to not take her seriously, and so were caught flatfooted by the decision. Perhaps because the violations of mining and environmental laws were previously seldom, if ever, observed, according to the DENR. But these laws had to do with damage to forests and watersheds, and the siltation and pollution of rivers, creeks and coastal waters. And guess who were most negatively affected by these violations? The farmers, fishers and indigenous peoples, who are the poorest of the poor. And this is where they are killed, when their means of livelihood is taken away from them. The concept of social justice kicks in, which Gina and her principal take very seriously.

The mining companies complain that they were not given due process. The DENR secretary says otherwise. Is being shown the audit reports and given the opportunity to be heard, and then validating the audits at the ground level, not enough due process? Anyway, the mining companies can take Secretary Lopez’s decision to the President, who has the final say on decisions of the national agencies, or they can go to the courts.

Is Gina Lopez dealing a mortal blow to the economy in protecting the environment? Is she being irresponsible?  Look at the data:

Mining industry statistics (as of Dec. 15, 2016) show that the gross value added in mining averaged about 0.65 percent of GDP for 2012-2016, and that includes nonmetallic mining.  That is less than 1 percent of total GDP. Even if the entire mining industry goes under, GDP will decrease by less than 1 percent.

What about exports?  The same data indicate that the mining industry, both metallic and nonmetallic, accounts for about 5 percent of total exports.

Employment? The industry accounts for about 0.6 percent of total employment.

That’s the entire industry. Let’s look at the smaller picture: Of the 23 cancelled mines, 14 are from Caraga, of which 8 are from Dinagat Islands. Kaka Bag-ao, its congresswoman, sent me data for 7 of those mines. Latest employment figures for the 7, supplied by MGB Caraga, was 1,938. And the DENR is setting up a self-sustaining program that will give them alternative employment.

Definitely not a mortal blow. And think of the benefit to the Filipino people, now and in the future.