Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 10 March 2017


Reader, I just want to give you and the members of the Commission on Appointments (CA) a gentle reminder about one crucial fact: Gina Lopez heads the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Let’s meditate on that.

First, notice that “environment” comes before “natural resources” in that title. One would then expect that the environment is the primary or maybe primus inter pares here. Therefore, there should be no question to her being qualified to head that department, given that she has been involved with environmental and sustainable development projects (successful) for so long. And what happens to the environment affects ALL of us, not just some lobby groups, some students.

Also note that she never lobbied for the position.  To hear President Duterte tell the story, he was impressed with her knowledge and her passion, and told her that if she was so concerned with the environment, she should head the DENR. Remember? In effect, then, what the critics and the members of the CA are questioning is Mr. Duterte’s judgment. Fair enough. Just a reminder.

Second, of course, natural resources are part of our environment. Water resources, forest resources, marine resources, mineral resources, etc. are what we are talking about. So where does mining come in? Together with oil and gas, and coal,  mining extracts nonrenewable resources (gold, nickel, copper, etc.) from our land. I bring this out to make the point that mining is a very small, albeit important, part of the DENR’s responsibility.

Which brings up an important question: Why did the mining aspect take so much of the CA’s time? Why were the management of the environment, and climate change, and water supply availability virtually ignored?

It is not as if mining occupies a very important role in the economy—last week’s column put paid to that thought. It contributes 0.6-0.7 percent to the country’s GDP, and about 0.5 to 0.6 percent to total employment (the statement often quoted in the media, that the number of people affected by the closure of the 23 mines would be about 1.2 million people is in the “Liar, liar, pants on fire” category). Mining revenues as percentage of total government revenues are a mere 1.18 percent. And the social projects of mining companies have helped about 700, or 1.7 percent, of 42,000 barangays nationwide

Third, the few studies done to obtain the Total Economic Value of mining operations (comparing the present value of the private and social costs and benefits of three mining locations over a 15-year period) show that given the present fiscal regime, those mines have a negative impact on the economy (meaning the costs to us of these mines are greater than the benefits). Why the CA didn’t think that this was an important issue and ask Ms Lopez her comments, one cannot fathom (or, rather, one can, but it would not be polite).

Fourth, there is the matter of watersheds. It actually is a matter of life and death for the Filipino people. Remember again, Reader, that when a watershed is damaged, everyone’s health is affected (water scarcity affects health). It is true that a mine is not the sole damager of a watershed, but if it is operating in one, it is natural that it will be the principal damager.

The brouhaha that an area has to be “proclaimed” a watershed for it to be so is ridiculous. It is as if there will be no environmental damage if there is no proclamation. Technicalities.

But even there, Gina Lopez wins the day. Executive Order No. 79 gives the DENR the authority to disallow mining in “other critical areas, island ecosystems, and impact areas of mining as determined by current and existing mapping technologies.”

Last, but not least: Did the Reader know that the government gets next to nothing as owner of the minerals? Of the 1.18 percent of government revenues that comes from mining, only 0.06 percent is from royalties. There was a bill in the last Congress to correct this onerous fiscal regime, but no one paid attention. This  Congress does not appear to be interested either. So much for sustainable development.