By: Dona Z. Pazzibugan, Ronnel W. Domingo - 12:52 AM February 07, 2017
Large-scale miners on Monday asked President Duterte to review the orders of Environment Secretary Gina Lopez to close down 23 mines and suspend five others, as she challenged the industry to give her two years to prove that ecotourism was a more viable source of livelihood than mining.
The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) said Lopez’s moves were hurting people in communities hosting mining projects.
“We respectfully submit that the acts of the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) secretary-designate on Feb. 2 announcing the suspension or closure of certain mining operations under the guise of ‘healing the hurt’ were irresponsible, unfair and illegal,” COMP said in a statement.
“Heal the hurt” is the title of a video that was shown before and after the DENR press conference last week. The video featured indigenous peoples and residents of mining communities talking against mining.
The video, accompanied by Michael Jackson’s hit song “Heal the World,” also showed Lopez in a fighting mood during speeches and riding in helicopters above mining sites.
COMP has also taken to referring to Lopez as secretary-designate. A confirmation hearing on Lopez’s appointment is scheduled at the Commission on Appointments on Tuesday.
A source familiar with Lopez’s daily work told the Inquirer that the staunch environmentalist was not getting the support she needed from her colleagues.
But Lopez is unfazed, reiterating in a television interview that she did not ask for the job and that she would not insist on staying if she were asked to leave.
“Under the guise of ‘Healing the Hurt,’ she is actually creating an even bigger hurt,” the chamber said.
COMP said Lopez’s orders put at risk about 67,000 jobs and at least 1.2 million people who depend directly on “legitimate, legal, permitted” mining for their livelihood.
These also “put in limbo” a pipeline of mining investments worth $22 billion or about P1.1 trillion, COMP said.
“The secretary-designate has effectively established a mining moratorium in the Philippines, trampling on the Philippine Mining Act, a law that she had sworn to uphold and implement before the President of the Philippines,” the chamber said.
“Beyond the mining companies, the secretary-designate’s intent to close the mining sector poses a danger to other industries,” it added.
Awaiting copy of order
Also on Monday, Platinum Group Metals Corp. (PGMC)—which operates one of the 23 mines that Lopez wants shuttered—said it was waiting to receive a copy of the order for closure before it could determine what action to take.
“We can go to court or we can ask the secretary to reconsider,” PGMC president Dante R. Bravo said in a briefing. “We can take various actions but that would depend on the order coming from the secretary herself, which we don’t have.”
Lopez rebutted the mining industry’s claim that 1.2 million people would be displaced by the closure of the mines. Citing government studies, she said that since 2014 the mining industry created 235,000 jobs.
She said residents in mining areas would fare better with ecotourism and agriculture.
“I have areas now that have been converted to a tourism area and it’s a (former) mineral area and people are benefiting,” Lopez said in a TV interview on Monday.
She said that in a green economy she wanted to promote the people would have jobs, more money and “they’ll be happier, healthier and they’ll stop fighting against each other.”
Lopez noted that only a few were benefiting from mining—the businessmen who are already very rich, some politicians and foreigners.
“But the people who live there, are they benefiting?… Around the mining areas there is a lot poverty,” she said.
She asked the mining industry to allow her to do something in the mining areas.
“Give me two years and I’ll show you much more than they have ever done in the years they have been there. I am confident (about this),” she said.
She believed that Dinagat and Surigao provinces, where she closed down mines, could develop their ecotourism industry.
Dinagat has 185 proposed ecotourism sites, including the largest bonsai forest in the country, according to the environment secretary.
She also cited the Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur’s Enchanted River, famed for its clear bluish water.
“I saw mountains, clean water, beaches and corals in the areas where there are no mining. Why are you killing that for the mining that some businessmen want? It’s morally wrong. Dinagat has so much potential and so does Surigao,” she said.
“But if you mine it, you’re killing it. That’s opportunity lost… It’s not worth it at all,” she said.
Lopez denied that she spared political allies from the mining crackdown.
“There are good mining companies. I do not want to fight the entire industry. But mining where it kills the environment, the country has lost a lot,” she said.