In the end, Gina Lopez was ousted by a Commission on Appointments, many of whose 24 members represent vast mining interests if they are not mining owners themselves.
By being removed as secretary of the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources, Gina was not the loser. The nation is. For the first time in our history, we had a DENR chief who was clearly committed to sustaining our environment even as the position also allows for the exploitation of natural resources.
Whether Gina was genuinely passionate in her pro-environment advocacy or hers was merely a rebranding or repositioning of what many saw as a clearly crazy personality, it is not easy to determine. If her act was purely theatrics, it was certainly a virtuoso performance.
I congratulate Gina for the raw courage and unbending integrity she displayed as DENR chief amid the most spirited and best organized wrecking campaign ever launched against a member of the cabinet, past or present.
If Gina’s 10-month stint at the DENR did any good, it was to stir up substantial public consciousness about mining, its deleterious and and nefarious effects on the environment, on the economy, and on future generations of Filipinos—thanks to her incredible showmanship and flair for drama.
Until President Duterte spoke about or against mining in March this year, I didn’t realize how small the contribution of mining to tax revenues and to the economy was. On March 17, 2017, Duterte said this about mining:
“The problem is, I saw the denuded mountains and there are still large holes because of open pit mining. If that is the case, I cannot help you. All you can contribute to society is P70 billion in taxes. We can live without it… Let’s just look for the P70 billion from somewhere else and preserve our environment.. .How many years have you been there. Up to now, I cannot seen any greenery. What I want is that you put wood there and not just leave it like this. You just cannot say, let’s go to court, that’s legal. No, we are here. We, I, begin and end my term at the altar of public interest.”
P70 billion in taxes just to destroy the environment? It was clearly a bad deal. Mining is supposed to be one of our most strategic economic activities. The Philippines, according to the DENR, is the fifth most mineralized country in the world, is third largest in the world in size of gold reserves, fourth largest in copper reserves, and fifth biggest in nickel reserves. By 2013, the Philippines was the world’s No. 1 nickel producer. Mining contributed just 6.3 percent of total exports by 2013.
In all other parameters, mining’s contributions to our economy seem minuscule—less than one percent—0.7 percent of Gross Domestic Product or GDP or just P77.8 billion gross valued added at current pesos; 0.6 percent of total employment, and 0.004 percent of government revenues.
Compare that to the contribution of overseas Filipino workers—$27 billion in annual 100-percent value added dollar revenues, 12 million employed overseas, and 12 percent of the total national population.
And yet, it seems to me, in the 25-member CA, there are more pro-mining members than there are pro-OFW advocates. And there is no Department of OFWs. We have a full-time Cabinet department in charge of mining, but none for OFWs.
In our Constitution’s Declaration of Principles and State Policies, there is a mention of ecology but none on exploitation natural resources. Article II Section 16 declares: “The State shall protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature.” Clearly, under the basic law of the law, ecology or the environment takes precedence over exploitation of natural resources.
In Article XII (National Economy and Patrimony), Section 2, the Constitution says: “The exploration, development, and utilization of natural resources shall be under the full control and supervision of the State.” Also, the same section says “The President may enter into agreements with foreign-owned corporations involving either technical or financial assistance for large-scale exploration, development, and utilization of minerals, petroleum, and other mineral oils according to the general terms and conditions provided by law, The President may enter into agreements with foreign-owned corporations involving either technical or financial assistance for large-scale exploration, development, and utilization of minerals, petroleum, and other mineral oils according to the general terms and conditions provided by law, based on real contributions to the economic growth and general welfare of the country. Note the phrase “real contributions to the economic growth and general welfare of the country.”
I liken mining’s effects to prostitution and tourism boom. We have millions of tourists because of our tourism boom. We love tourists because of the dollars they bring.
Invariably, many of these tourists gravitate towards our women and children. Filipinos, after all, are among the most beautiful people on earth. Many of these tourists despoil our women, converting them into sex slaves and prostitutes. A delicate woman once despoiled cannot be restored. Isn’t the environment the same?
Hopefully, after the saga of Gina Lopez, responsible mining will acquire true meaning and not just a mere slogan it has been for years.
In the meantime, without Gina at DENR, the ball is now in President Duterte’s court. Under the Constitution, he is the only person allowed to cut deals with miners, local and foreign, “based on real contributions to the economic growth and general welfare of the country.”