PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte said Monday he is willing to let go of Environment Secretary Regina Lopez if she fails to win confirmation from the Commission on Appointments Wednesday.
The mining industry has mounted a concerted effort to block Lopez’s confirmation after she closed or suspended 28 mining companies and canceled 75 mineral production sharing agreements over environmental concerns.
Lopez failed to win confirmation in December 2016 but was reappointed by President Duterte. On Monday, he said he might not do it again if Lopez is bypassed a second time.
“That’s another thing, because you know, this is a democracy. I do not control the careers of people through and through. There are processes to be observed,” the President told reporters in a chance interview.
Despite this, the President said he supported Lopez.
“Yes, of course. I won’t get her [in my Cabinet] if I do not like her,” he said.
Lopez had earlier accused members of the Commission on Appointments of receiving a P50-million bribe to block her confirmation, a claim she later retracted.
In an eight-minute video posted on her Facebook page, Lopez turned emotional and addressed her detractors, particularly a few of the mine owners, and called them “very greedy.”
Before a business group, Lopez had said: “My confirmation is on March 1. Let the dice fall where [they] may. I don’t care. I was told that every congressman was offered P50 million if they voted against me. I don’t know. I heard there’s a kitty out there, I don’t know, that’s people talking.”
Following Lopez’s statement against the lawmakers, the 12-member House contingent, led by its chairman San Juan City Rep. Ronaldo Zamora, canceled a courtesy call that Lopez had sought with them.
Zamora said the contingent would just see Lopez on Wednesday, during her confirmation hearing.
On Monday, the University of the Philippines National Institute of Geological Science slammed Lopez for blaming large-scale mining for the degradation of the environment and said her actions would have disastrous effects on Geology students and graduates, who worked hard to earn their degree.
“My students are hurt. Mining is a decent job,” said Carlo Arcilla, UP-NIGS professor, at a news conference. “I did not teach my students to rape the environment.”
He said even his former students who now work at the DENR stand to lose their jobs if large-scale mining operations are shut down.
“They could not speak to share their views for fear of reprisal,” he told the Manila Standard.
“In fact, I am on the record, she must not be confirmed. I have nothing against her. She would be a very, very good tourism secretary.”
Arcilla said small-scale miners account for 70 percent to 80 percent of all mining in the country, while large-scale mining accounts for only 20 percent.
He said it is difficult to regulate small-scale mining because provincial governors are authorized to issue permits, and local governments often do not have the expertise to monitor mining operations.
In 2012, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Mines and Geoscience Bureau admitted small-scale mining was not that easy to monitor and regulate, and that it exploited Presidential Decree 1899 issued in 1984 allowing individuals to apply for mining permits while imposing very few requirements.
“Why is she [Lopez] too focused on mining?” he asked.
Illegal logging, not mining, has caused the denudation of the forest cover triggering landslides and flash floods, he said.
“If something goes wrong, she blames mining at once. The problem with her is her ecological approach. She has maintained her anti-mining position since the very start. It is okay to order the closure of some, but not all. There are responsible miners around,” Arcilla said.
“We have no choice but to mine responsibly.”
He slammed Lopez for her failure to even define what a watershed area is, and her refusal to listen to mining experts, geologists and metallurgical engineers.
Lopez would rather listen to non-government organizations and accuse experts of being paid off by the mining companies.
“She herself cannot even define what a watershed is.”
Ronald Recidoro, Chamber of Mines of the Philippines vice president for legal and policy, said Lopez, the DENR and the government will face many civil suits if her appointment is confirmed by the Commission on Appointments.
“She [Lopez] is not qualified. She lacks the experience and knowledge to run the affairs of the Environment Department,” he said.
Rep. Allen Jesse Mangaoang of Kalinga said Lopez was singlehandedly “killing the mining industry.”
At a forum Monday, Mangaoang said Lopez did not know the consequences of her actions, and did not know the mining industry.
He said local governments stand to lose P650 million a year from taxes that mining companies pay. The country could also lose billions of pesos a year, not only from the mining industry, but from other industries that supply it.
Mangaoang, a geologist, worked 10 years for private mining companies.
“I know how mining workers feel if they are out of jobs,” he said.
Under the law, companies with violations are not shut down, but given time to rectify these violations, he said.
“Responsible mining is you follow the law. If there are 1,000 policies or rules, you must follow the 1,000 rules. If you miss one, you rectify that,” he said.
Silangan Mindanao Mining Co. Inc. and Philex Gold Philippines Inc., both wholly-owned subsidiaries of Philex Mining Corp., said Monday they are reserving their civil and criminal rights and remedies against all responsible parties, including rights for enforcement and compensation under applicable investment treaties should the government close their mines.
The two companies recently filed separate letters responding to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ show cause letters, which directed them to explain why their mineral production sharing agreements should not be canceled on the alleged ground that the contract areas of the MPSAs are situated within watershed areas.
“All the MPSAs, which were subjected to the rigorous process prescribed by applicable law and regulations which included obtaining the requisite regulatory clearances that the areas covered by the MPSAs are open to mining, are valid and legal,” Philex said.
Philex noted that mining is also not prohibited in all watershed areas.
“Under Philippine law, only watersheds that are proclaimed, designated or set aside pursuant to law or presidential decrees, presidential proclamations or executive orders as watershed forest reserves or as critical watersheds are closed to mining operations. None of the MPSAs’ contract areas are situated inside proclaimed watersheds, forest reserves and critical watersheds where mining is prohibited,” Philex said.
“The threatened cancellation of the MPSAs has no legal and factual basis whatsoever, yet the DENR secretary unceremoniously held a press conference announcing their cancellation three days prior to the actual personal service of the DENR letters to SMMCI and PGPI, resulting in not just in actual losses but in significant damage to the reputation of both companies and the erosion of investor confidence without affording them their due process rights and any opportunity to be heard,” Philex added.
A mining industry source, meanwhile, said Lopez’s granting of an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) to her company-owned geothermal company was a clear case of conflict of interest, because there were other pending ECC applications that should have been acted upon first.
The Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, meanwhile, urged the government to amend the Philippine Mining Act to require prospective investors to not just mine ore but to produce the final downstream products.
“We want the mining of natural resources to be given to companies who will produce the final products. We should not just get the ore, export them and import the finished products. Filipinos will not learn anything,” Chamber president Jose Luis U. Yulo Jr. said.
The chamber wants mandatory investments for plants and equipment necessary to convert raw ore into finished products, especially products of importance to the world’s growing economy and a sustainable agenda for industrialization.
Both downstream and upstream processes will generate jobs, the group said.
“Why are we giving our natural resources, which only fetch so much in the world market, when we know it’s a resource that cannot be replaced? So we’re pushing to have our own processing industries here. And we believe that once a miner has access to the ore with facilities in place, they will, all the more, take care of the environment because they will lose big time if they don’t,” Yulo said.
Under the current mining contracts, the government enjoys revenue sharing agreement with the miners either through the (MPSA) or a financial and technical assistance agreement.
Both allow mining companies to mine the ore in a sustainable manner, but do not guarantee upstream investments.
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