Dindo Manhit, President of the Stratbase ADR Institute for Strategic and International Studies
After several hearings and a brief break, the members of the Commission on Appointments voted to reject the appointment of Gina Lopez as secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The mining industry jubilated, while antimining advocates and avowed environmental groups cried foul, even hurling accusations that business interests control the commission.
This is the picture painted to the general public, which is truly lamentable if environmental reforms are to be genuinely pursued. It must not be forgotten that the hearings were conducted to scrutinize Lopez’s qualifications for the top DENR post. They were not about environmentalism, much less a battle between mining companies and antimining groups. The only question passed upon by the commission’s members was whether Lopez is fit for the job.
Lopez’s exit does not mean business as usual for the mining industry. The Commission on Appointments voted on Lopez’s fitness and not on miners’ compliance with environmental laws, rules and regulations. In other words, the vote not to confirm Lopez does not serve to vindicate the alleged sins of the mining industry, and the mining law, hailed by the industry itself, remains in full force and effect. There would have been no “Gina Lopez situation,” including the entire antimining constituency, had the industry been truly practicing responsible mining. The mine audits could have cleansed the industry were it not for irrational and biased judgement.
The mining industry has a golden opportunity to walk the talk and prove wrong the suggestion that environmentalism is incompatible with mining. Together with the DENR, miners can show that their industry can be responsible despite the environmental disturbance they create. They can prove that environmentalism is not a monopoly of “green activists,” and that a Gina Lopez is not a prerequisite for environmental rehabilitation and protection, nor for social justice.
Dr. CP David, in the strategic agenda publication “Thinking Beyond Politics,” had this to say: “It’s true that mining—and all types of extractive industries—will inevitably sacrifice areas that used to be intact ecosystems. The key is to strike a balance between mining and ecosystem integrity. In pursuing this, we should be guided by three related strategic tenets:
“1. Certain areas should be permanently off-limits to mining due to their sensitive nature, function, and difficulty in restoration. These areas must be delineated based on sound technical evaluation.
“2. Mining is a temporary land use activity and therefore restoration of an area to its original state and/or transformation to another economic activity (e.g. farming, light industries, etc.) must be part and parcel of any new development.
“3. Maximize the benefits of mining by mineral value-adding, transforming mining towns as multi-industry areas to generate jobs and businesses beyond those directly employed in mining.”
For the DENR, now is the best time to show that fulfilling its mandate to protect the environment need not halt an industry, but rather may be achieved through a conscientious enforcement of environmental regulations. Perhaps some rules should be revisited, but as a whole, David’s insights are worth noting: “The pressing needs in this regard are political will, consistency in implementation, and good governance rather than the promulgation of more laws and regulations. A more rational approach is to strengthen existing regulatory frameworks and the strict enforcement of mining and environmental laws. … The best set-up in protecting the environment is one in which these functions are relegated to the other stakeholders, such as the host local communities and the local government units. This is the essence of the Multi-partite Monitoring Teams.”
Indeed, the rejection of the appointment of Gina Lopez as DENR secretary may turn out to be for the good of our environment, but only if the mining industry, together with the DENR, can step up and demonstrate responsible stewardship.