Posted on May 10, 2017
The Philippine Business for Environmental Stewardship (PBEST) stood with numerous oppositors against the confirmation of the appointment of Ms. Gina Lopez as secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Sadly, the proceedings before the Commission on Appointments (CA) were pictured to be a fight between miners on the one hand, and Lopez as the crusading environmentalist, on the other.
Consequently, it almost sounded like a triumph of evil over what is good after news of Lopez’s rejection by the CA broke out. As expected, the environmental NGOs, forming part of the anti-mining base, protested the decision as one terrible to the environmental cause, even going as far as questioning the integrity of individual members of the CA. In contrast, miners felt a huge a sigh of relief, if the sudden jump in mining stock prices is any indication.
This portrayal of a dichotomy is what PBEST considers most unfortunate. Not only does it further divide stakeholders, it also clouds legitimate environmental concerns. Amidst the headline-grabbing incidents at the CA deliberations of Lopez’s appointment, we heard nothing significant on the environmental protection front. Yes, there were the mine suspensions and closures, but nothing was fully implemented as due process issues cropped up.
Certainly, the whole saga diverted the focus of stakeholders from debating how best to manage our environment and our rich natural resources to arguing the propriety of Gina Lopez’s brand of environmentalism. Such division has become so deep-seated that all parties must now realize that the environment ends up losing when the smoke from the debacle clears. If this stalemate is to end, then the ball is currently in the hands of the miners.
There can be no more opportune time than this moment for miners to step up and prove their critics wrong. Our institutional process for vetting top government executives simply rejected an aggressive governance approach bereft of legal or scientific basis. It would be absurd for miners to take Lopez’s rejection as a vindication of the business as usual.
Indeed, miners must realize that the great debate about responsible mining, or even whether mining should be undertaken in the Philippines in the first place, would not have plagued the industry had its players been truly responsible. Mining disasters due to non-compliance with environmental regulations or an utter disregard for the protection of the environment and the welfare of surrounding communities have in fact happened and illegal operations continue to thrive. These realities run up against the people’s right to a balanced and healthful ecology, just as the anti-mining groups claim. The mantra of social justice became so appealing and almost synonymous to anti-mining as horror stories caused by erring mining operations snowballed and engulfed demonstrations of compliance and adoption of best practices.
The miners should face examination and ask themselves: would the anti-mining propaganda have been so difficult to counter had ammunition, so to speak, not come from their own ranks? The appointment of the poster girl of the anti-mining campaign as Environment secretary is undoubtedly a manifestation that the public perception favors the crackdown on mining, as if it is the only industry that causes environmental disturbance.
The miners must also recognize that the action of the CA with respect to the appointment of Lopez was one of political will. While the majority of the members saw through the propaganda and upheld our system of government -- marked by the rule of law and not of man -- their move will have nevertheless reduced their patience for the industry. The miners must be up to the challenge, as this moment for reform may very well be their last chance. Failure to do so will cement the industry’s demonized status; leaving their promises of economic development and responsible stewardship only empty words.
A good start for the industry, therefore, is for them to police their own ranks. The miners and their associations must become partners of government in dealing with erring constituents. After a hurdle that almost killed the industry, it is time to turn inward and clean their own backyard. This point cannot be overemphasized, considering both the rarity of the moment as well as the reality that the acts of delinquent miners reflect on the entire industry.
In carrying out self-regulation, one virtue that may prove crucial is transparency. Definitely, the best way to show sincerity and good faith is to be reasonably open for government, academic, and, more importantly, community scrutiny to confirm that the industry hides nothing, and welcomes constructive criticism to improve social and environmental performance. Of course, there already exists a platform for this in the Philippine Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (PH-EITI), but much more can be achieved if the mining industry goes beyond transparency in internal revenue remittance and other sums due to the local government units and the communities. Perhaps, the empowerment of the multipartite monitoring teams (MMT), especially the community members forming part of the teams, will jump-start the endeavor towards becoming genuinely transparent with the aim of effective self-regulation.
There is no better time to prove detractors wrong, before the stakeholders get stuck bickering only about the extreme environmentalism that, at the end of the day, does not do good for the environment and the people who most depend on it.
Atty. Lysander N. Castillo, Environment Fellow at the Stratbase ADR Institute and Secretary-General of PBEST.