THE DURIAN BEAT
By: Roger Balanza
Columnist, Philippines News Agency
Duterte and killing the mining industry
NEVER mind that the mining industry is raising the specter of lost investments and revenues and massive unemployment if the government continues to look at the sector as something that the country can do without.
President Rodrigo Duterte has to make a choice between mining as a revenue generator and mining as a serious threat to people and the environment.
At this point in time, Mother Earth and the Pinoys are winning; mining could be on its way out of the country’s landscape.
The government has suspended the operations of dozens of large local and multi-national mining companies for serious reasons among which is non-compliance with requirements to replant trees in mining sites ravaged by unregulated and irresponsible mining.
The President wants to stop the mining companies from further committing this sin against people, nature and the environment – a callous practice by the companies.
President Duterte has issued a verbal order that should give the mining companies a big headache.
Short of ordering them to do a miracle, President Duterte wants trees – as tall as he is –standing in the devastated mining concessions in six months. Of course, this is impossible to do, but we believe that the President can do hell and order the closure of the mining companies if he could not see the trees in six months.
President Duterte may have lost a jewel in former Environment Secretary Gina Lopez, whose confirmation was crushed by Congress due to a strong lobby by the mining sector for hounding mining companies violating environmental laws and conditions of re-greening imposed by government permits.
For Lopez, responsible mining, the mantra of the mining industry that mining can balance economic development with environmental protection, in actuality is a myth.
Bald and denuded mountains without any vegetation in the mining concessions are graphic evidence of how irresponsible mining wrought havoc on nature.
If Lopez were still in command of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources today, there would have been no need for President Duterte to warn the mining companies because the rapists of our environment would already have been closed down by the DENR secretary. Environmental protection is on top of the agenda of Lopez who does not give a hoot about mining and the income it gives to the government.
Her proposal that government programs including tourism can be alternative employment generators and revenue-earners larger than mining if mining is outlawed has not been tested due to the unceremonious rejection of her confirmation as DENR secretary by Congress, many of whose members have interests in large-scale mining. Adding to Lopez’s woes is the fact that there are people in the President’s Cabinet who are involved in mining.
With President Duterte’s strong-arm approach against errant mining companies and his now clear agenda against mining, Lopez’s idea should see the light in the future. If we were the President, we will have Lopez back in the saddle at the DENR.
The closure of irresponsible mining companies as vowed by President Duterte is a sword hanging on the environmental rapists.
After all, there is no way that the trees they would plant today would grow above the President’s line of sight in six months. Except if the mining companies have God on their side or if they could still bribe environment officials as they did in the past to close their eyes on the violations.
We understand why President Duterte hates mining.
He has first-hand knowledge of the evils that mining inflicts on the environment, people and peace and order.
He was the chairman of the Davao Region Peace and Order Council during his early days as Davao City Mayor and had come face-to-face with these evils as a spin-off from the gold rush in the 80s and 90s in Diwalwal, Monkayo in Compostela Valley.
The turf wars between large-scale and small-scale miners in the 739-hectare People’s Mining Area in gold-rich Diwalwal, at the tail-end of Mindanao’s “Mining Corridor” that starts in the Agusan and Surigao provinces, was a story of greed and violence and deaths.
Outside of the mine tunnels, unregulated plants processing ores into gold spew out deadly mercury and cyanide to pollute rivers and cause disease.
The economic side of the Diwalwal gold rush was one-sided: while mine owners laughed their way to the banks, the mine workers got the pittance, just enough to survive, with mining malpractices and lack of safety measures constantly threatening to bury them in the cave-ins and landslides.
In the underground bowels of Paquibato and Marilog districts in the uplands of Davao City’s 244,000 hectares are rich deposits of gold and other metals.
Foreign and local companies wanted to mine the precious metals but their greed never went beyond their evil intentions that were immediately shot down by the Davao City local government and its officials from President Duterte, when he was mayor and vice mayor, to Sara Duterte, when she was mayor and vice mayor, and former vice mayor Paolo Duterte.
To totally stop the entry of mining companies, the Davao City government declared the city as “mining-free.”
With government agencies tasked with issuing permits flooded with mining exploration applications, then-Mayor Duterte had at one point been accommodating by laying down conditions for him to allow mining: modern technology that reduces to the barest minimum risk to people and environment and statutes that would ensure the mine workers would financially benefit under a revenue-sharing agreement with the companies. Until such conditions are met, Davao City is mining-free.
But Duterte also bared his reason why he is vehemently against mining which finally drove away from the mining companies.
Davao City’s mineral resources, he said, should be conserved as a “piggy bank” for future generations of Dabawenyos.
At the time, the promised revenues for the local government from mining was the least that Davao City needed.
Davao City was already an economically viable corporate entity able to respond to public services with its large annual revenue. As a premier city in Mindanao, it was experiencing a surge in investments that could ensure a highly functional local government unit. The city does not need the violence, the pollution and the social unrest that mining brings.
President Duterte may kill the mining industry but he should be supported for saving people and the environment.
If he did it in Davao City, the Philippines under President Duterte should also be mining-free.