As ballyhooed and dramatic as it was, the rejection of Gina Lopez by the Commission on Appointments was also quite expected. In the course of the hearings, quizzed on the technical and legal aspects of the job, the crusading environmentalist had been inconsistent, if not wholly incapable. She exhibited a key limitation that no media savvy could salvage.
Also expected was the barrage of protests from her avid and emotional supporters, sadly drowning out the salient points of the CA decision with political noise. For example, the high theatrics of the narrative of her campaign obscured her tendencies to be dangerously authoritarian in her policy-making in addition to being unfit and technically incompetent to helm the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Majority of the members of the CA fortunately read beyond the loud propaganda and astutely sifted fact from publicity. And if anything good came out of the saga, the due hype has elevated public awareness on the difficult issues of the environment, including the complex web that connects it with natural resources, poverty, national development, and even health.
If the categorical rejection of Lopez taught us anything, it is that environmental policy cannot be isolated from economic and political realities, and this intricate connection represents a Gordian knot that all the stakeholders must collectively untangle by way of thinking out of the box en route to a balanced solution. A policy that arbitrarily antagonizes key players is already a failure.
This also represents a golden opportunity for the beleaguered and demonized mining industry, which should lose no time in taking decisive steps in reshaping its controversial image by cleansing the sector of irresponsible and illegal mining operations. To cite, the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines should quickly evolve into a self-regulating body especially in setting the highest standards on environmental stewardship.
Players should also step up their efforts in stressing the necessity of a vibrant mining industry if the country is to truly pursue industrialization. This path requires the harnessing of some P73.47 trillion in mineral potential, which can be transformed into useful assets that can in turn support linked industries.
This staggering untapped wealth, if harnessed, can represent a paradigm shift in the economy, which for the longest time had been largely driven by domestic consumption, the BPO and OFW sectors, and infrastructure. While significant, more economic drivers are needed to allow annual GDP growth to break the seven-percent mark.
The country’s mining and manufacturing sectors will have to step in. For instance, a reliable supply of local copper, nickel, and iron ore will lead to the development of a vibrant and competitive manufacturing sector that would intermediate goods like copper wires and steel rods, the ingredients for an eventual foray into the production of industrial equipment, automobiles, and other consumer goods.
This path can only be pursued when regulations are stable and conducive for the pouring in of investments, as well as a rational and balanced environmental and fiscal regime.
Among the key recommendations from industry and policy experts include implementing decisive action against illegal and unregulated small-scale mining. Not only do small-scale miners skirt paying taxes, they also have no environmental protection or mitigation systems in place. For perspective, there is an estimated 300,000 people engaged in small-scale mining generating some P42.8 billion in unreported gold output. This translates to some P857 million in government losses in potential excises taxes, never mind the ecological degradation.
Another critical proposal is to harmonize the laws on mining by the national legislature by rectifying conflicting local ordinances enacted by local government units. A consistency that runs across levels is an attractive plus from the perspective of investors.
The SDMP can also be expanded to benefit not just the host and neighboring communities but the entire municipality and even province. Government must also prioritize the remediation and rehabilitation of mine sites abandoned prior to the passage of the Mining Act in 1995.
Finally, a long-term vision has to be solidified through an industrialization roadmap that connects mining and the extractive industries with downstream processing and manufacturing sectors. This has evident implications on employment through the creation of high-quality jobs and the mushrooming of adjoining industries.
Together, these measures will hopefully reverse the simplistic narrative that pits mining against the environment when they can, in reality, co-exist. A middle ground exists between these two, the same way that it is possible for the mining sector to effectively contribute to both sustainable environmental protection and inclusive economic growth.