Dindo Manhit, President of the Stratbase ADR Institute for Strategic and International Studies
Following the slew of hastily executed mining audits and subsequent suspensions and closures, half of the legitimate large-scale mining projects in the country—all backed by lawful contracts—are in danger of being scrapped, with all the dire economic consequences seemingly buried under an avalanche of emotional and dramatic harangue.
The antimining armies of full-time, often left-leaning, propagandists are wont to emphasize and build on the divisive potential of the orders of Gina Lopez, secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Social justice and environmental issues are to them inherently and eternally contradictory with prosperity and economics. This espouses a kind of myopic mindset that effectively bars any semblance of viable mining to flourish.
But as we are witnessing, this fixation on the big players in the sector fails to account for the complex interplay of factors that characterizes the industry. It fails to present a systemic view of the critical macro and micro connections that an ideological bias—and there is certainly bias—will reliably obscure.
Worse, Lopez’s crusader persona, as effectively projected in the mainstream and social media through dramatic sound bites and well-produced videos, clouds public perception of the issue. Never mind the science and the data, their PR machine says, we must oppose big business because it is inherently oppressive.
This is a misleading take on social justice. Social justice is about the equal distribution of resources and opportunities. That the mining sector supposedly contributes a miniscule amount to the national economy is aligned with this biased messaging tactic. It ignores the fact that there are very few legitimate operating mines in the country, whose footprint reaches barely 1 percent of the land mass.
Also disregarded in the passionate debate is the long-term perspective necessary to appreciate the industry. The constitutionality of the Mining Act of 1995 was upheld by the Supreme Court only in 2005, 10 years after it was enacted.
For proper perspective, a mining company spends years, if not decades, to fully take advantage of a mining operation. Two years, easily on regulatory hurdles, then five more for the grant of an MPSA (mineral production sharing agreement), and about two more years for the construction of all related infrastructure. By this time, and the mine hasn’t even started producing anything, billions of pesos had been invested, from roads to utilities and other necessary facilities.
Thus, the mining industry has just started to gain velocity, but unstable policy has again delayed expansion.
What is the root of this opposition then? Is it a dislike for the strategic potential of our globally recognized, $840-billion mineral resource that can be instrumental in finally achieving social justice? Asking for egalitarian distribution of opportunities is one thing, but barring the means to achieve the unlocking of those opportunities is another. If, despite a strict evaluation by government regulators, they say that mining does not represent a viable avenue to development, what does? The lack of proffered alternatives is telling.
Also obscured from the discussion is the fact that the real stakeholders in the mining industry also want their voices to be heard. These real people—not propagandists—travelled to the capital from northern Luzon and Mindanao to register their voices. And for good reason. Their tormentors have never even seen, much less worked in, a real mine. Experience can never be secondary to dogma.
The “environment” is the most abused in the back-and-forth debate. While it is only right to advocate for its stewardship, there is no place either for simplistic and all-or-nothing attitudes that ignore the rule of law and science. This dangerous perspective will have long-term repercussions and eventually impede the narrative of development of this administration.
Hopefully, the intervention of the Mining Industry Coordinating Council to conduct a separate review of the DENR’s controversial mining audit sends a clear signal that it’s time to move in to clean up what President Duterte has said is “a mess.”