Confirmed governance failure

Lysander Castillo, Environment fellow at the Stratbase ADR Institute and Secretary-General of Philippine Business for Environmental Stewardship (PBEST)

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary-designate Gina Lopez has sprung another surprise announcement with the cancellation of some 75 mineral production sharing agreements (MPSA).

The Philippine Business for Environmental Stewardship (PBEST) had earlier insisted that there is a failure of leadership in the DENR. After the arbitrary suspension and closure of mines, there was a clear failure on the part of Ms. Lopez to transcend from her role as an advocate, carrying a single cause, to that of a regulator, who is supposed to look after the interests of a range of environment stakeholders.

Managing the environment requires united action from all stakeholders, and the government, as the institution entrusted by the people to be the arbiter of common good, must lead the way. After all, every sector and each one of us has a role to play in our collective desire to protect the environment even as we benefit from its fruits and in a way that future generations may equally enjoy.

Unfortunately, the DENR is now becoming an instrument of personal advocacy rather than an impartial enforcer of environmental laws, its primary mandate. These laws, in the first place, were promulgated in coordination and consultation with the concerned stakeholders. Indeed, the position of secretary that Ms. Gina Lopez holds is one of public interest, defined not by one’s advocacy but by the interest of every single Filipino.

Thus, Ms. Lopez’s inability to differentiate between personal advocacies and the responsibility of governing will only result in more environmental degradation than protection as PBEST predicts the following are bound to happen:

Ms. Lopez’s style of governance will divide environment stakeholders, not unite them under a single purpose of responsible stewardship;

Ms. Lopez’s fixation on mining will cause the neglect of other urgent environmental concerns;

Ms. Lopez’s hardline anti-mining stance will only make her continue to disregard due process and the rule of law; and

Ms. Lopez will ultimately kill the mining industry.

After the cancellation of the MPSAs, our fears have just been confirmed.

i. Ms. Lopez’s style of governance will divide environment stakeholders, not unite them under a single purpose of responsible stewardship.

Prior to Ms. Lopez’s appointment as DENR Secretary, the debate between anti-mining advocates and the mining industry centered on the existence of responsible mining. Now, the debate has shifted to questioning the competency of Ms. Lopez to be the secretary of the DENR.

Students, scientists, and the industry have protested the actions of Ms. Lopez, while anti-mining groups logically egg her on. No less than the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) has a reported discord between Cabinet members. Even the DENR has not been spared of this divide. Apparently, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), the lead agency for mining concerns within the Department, has been kept out of the loop from all these controversial pronouncements.

ii. Ms. Lopez’s fixation on mining will cause the neglect of other urgent environmental concerns.

Aside from the inevitable neglect of other environmental concerns because of her campaign against mining, the cancellation of the MPSAs clearly exhibits Ms. Lopez’s bias against the industry. The use of watershed as the basis for the cancellation leads one to question the other industries present in these areas.

Following Ms. Lopez’s seeming definition of watersheds, is mining the only industry located in these areas that stands to compromise water security? What about power plants, even those using renewable energy? What about agricultural activities? What about the residential areas within watersheds like those in Marikina?

Of course, the DENR secretary ought to know that mining is not the only source of water pollution. In fact, it should be obvious that other industries are posing a lot more threat to a watershed than a MPSA holder which has not even started mining yet.

iii. Ms. Lopez’s hardline anti-mining stance will only make her continue to disregard due process and the rule of law.

Ms. Lopez owes the public the knowledge of and respect for the law; the same law that allows her to exercise the functions as DENR secretary. Assuming Ms. Lopez knows of the constitutional precepts, the outright cancellation of the MPSAs is a clear violation of due process and non-impairment clauses of the 1987 Constitution. Worse, the basis for the cancellation finds no support in fact and in law. Particularly, the concept of “functional watershed” has no legal basis and, worse, no technical meaning has been offered to legitimize it.

Ours is a government of laws and not of men. Respect for the law will be our only protection from tyrants disguised as crusaders for social justice.

iv. Ms. Lopez will ultimately kill the mining industry.

The consequence of the cancellation of the MPSAs is obvious. How does killing the mining industry fit in the pursuit of national industrialization by the Duterte administration?

Indeed, our fears have been realized. Prophetic? No. These are just what can logically be expected of advocate Gina Lopez. It is, however, a confirmation of a failed leadership, and her confirmation as DENR secretary is therefore not in order.

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