DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/29 Sept) — Conrado de Quiros was never known to mince words. He rapped Manny Pangilinan (“Alien,” PDI, 9/26) for the latter’s now-famous outburst, “Ang gulo gulo nyo!” with its accompanying threat to flee the country for the peace, tranquility and good order of Hong Kong, now no longer a part of English-speaking Great Britain but of Mandarin-speaking China.
So certainly not wanting to sound like Manny Pangilinan, who in breaking ties irrevocably with Ateneo de Manila due its alleged stands on mining, the RH-bill and plagiarism, nevertheless has graciously allowed his employee, Coach Norman Black, to continue his work with the Blue Eagles before finally and irrevocably “calling it a day,” allow me simply to say: Ang gulo gulo natin!
The inclusive first person plural “Natin,” rather than the exclusive second person “Nyo,” because we are part of the pandemonium, not outside of it; we are Filipinos with homes in Manila, Baguio, Bacolod, Davao, Tampakan and Padcal, not in Hong Kong. Especially for what happens or does not happen under the Aquino administration we must bear responsibility. After all, we voted for him. (At least, I did.) We put him in office.
Recognizing that, the President of the Philippines, has gamely said, “Kayo ang boss!” That was recognition manifesting the best spirit of People Power, Aquino style, not just a cynical patronization of the unlettered and weak. “Kayo ang boss!” meaning, I take it, recognition of the People’s interest as the ultimate determinant of his administration’s policy. This is indeed the abiding mandate of government in general: to promote and defend the common good according to the demands of social justice, especially when the common good is threatened by the powerful private interests of such as business, or where the common good is held hostage by individual politicians trusting more in the bullying of business conglomerates than in the power of the People, who are not just P-Noy’s, but democracy’s only “Boss.”
So what are we to say now as developments in mining, mining policy take a shameful turn, if not: Ang gulo gulo natin! We must own responsibility for the pandemonium, because even while there has been a vigorous conversation ongoing on the pros and cons of mining – yes, even among Jesuits like Fr. Emerterio Barcelon, S.J., staunchly pro-mining, Fr. Jett Villarin, S.J, cautiously hopeful about mining pending certain reforms, and myself, insisting on radical policy change to govern responsible mining, and Fr. Jojo Magadia, S.J., our amiable Provincial, trying to get us to listen to one another through the formulation of “SJ Social Apostolate ‘Talking Points’” – the environmental argument seems tragically to have bowed to the economic argument, and the worry in government seems more about the ranting and ravings of the Mining Sector (who, for my money, have a right to rant and rave all they want in defense of their private interest!) than about the common good.
Of course, in this happy conversation there is a bloody contest on who can articulate the interests of the common good truly. It is not surprising that the Chamber of Mines argues for a future heaven on earth through the economic blessings of mining and, of course, the legitimacy of their financial returns guaranteed by the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 which limits – limits! – the People’s share in mining revenues to a mere 2% excise tax. Especially where the Philippine Constitution recognizes minerals as belonging to the People, and not even to private real title holders of lands where minerals are found, there are many that argue that this 2% limit is not in the best interest of the People. The People deserve more than its “zero to nil” (Carpio) share in the actual minerals mined.
This economic consideration, and not the environmental concern, has been the focus of the Aquino administration’s take on socially unjust relations in the mining industry. It has become clear, especially to such as Finance Secretary Purisima, that government is being shortchanged in current mining policy. Hence, its EO 79. It allows no new mineral agreements to be forged until Congress would have come up with a more rational revenue sharing law. Where minerals are a non-renewable resource, they should no longer be exploited until the People have a greater share in them through a new law. This is only rational! Meanwhile, miners with permits under existing laws may under EO 79 continue mining. Immediately, the Chamber of Mines publicly lauded EO 79. I called it a mixed bag. EO 79 favored the economic side of mining, but in my view failed to satisfactorily protect the environment against the negative impacts of mining.
Then DENR under Sec. Ramon Paje issued the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) on EO 79 on Sept. 6. This was the beginning of a series of events where as “Boss” one can only bow one’s head in shame and say, “Ang gulo gulo natin!”
Part of the IRRs was a provision that lapsed agreements on 25-year-old mineral tenements would be reviewed and renegotiated. This caused a furor among the poor miners, who contended that their tenements were for 25 years, renewable for another twenty-five years “under the same terms and conditions.” They were so angry about the IRR that they came out with a full-page ad complaining about the legal rights being trampled upon, and practically calling for the sacking of the beleaguered DENR Secretary Ramon Paje. Incredibly, within days of this ad, instead of holding to its new IRRs to assert stability in governance, government convened the Mining Investment’s Coordinating Council, which proceeded to revise the IRRs, apparently to clarify to the poor, poor miners that it was still intending to review lapsed tenement agreements. After all, renewal, even “on the same terms and conditions, is a genuine act of “renewal,” based also on a government decision that renewal is warranted. Otherwise, there would be no need for renewal, and no need for applications for renewal. Especially since the administration had postponed all new mineral agreements pending new legislation rationalizing revenue sharing in favor of the people, it was only rational to insist on a review of lapsed tenements. If 2% return on lapsed tenements is considered “treason” to the People (Regis), why should government allow automatic renewals? Why should reviewable contracts not be by government vested with police power?
Understandably, this revision of the IRR did not please the Chamber of Mines, which declared that its concerns were not adequately responded to in its revised provisions. It coughed and sneezed, back channeled, and – what else can we say – led government to back slide away from its matuwid na daan. The response, as carried yesterday in Business World Online:
“The environment department has officially suspended the implementation of the guidelines of the government’s new mining policy following revisions made to the rules earlier this week.” Concerning the effectivity of the IRRs of EO 79, Secretary Paje was quoted as saying in the Memo, “The implementation of Department Administrative Order No. 2012-07 or the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of Executive Order 79 which becomes effective September 29, 2012 is hereby suspended pending the issuance and effectivity of the amendments thereto.” But just five days earlier the amendments to the IRRs had been published, just before the Chamber of Mines started coughing and sneezing!
“Ang gulo gulo natin!” I hate to say this, but it looks like the private Chamber of Mines, or certain VIPs among private miners, is controlling the mining policy of the Aquino Administration. It’s flip-flopping here betrays weakness in the governance that ought to be responsive to the needs of “the Boss” and “the Boss” alone. These needs include a policy environment where, if mining must be engaged in at all, the People’s take in it is increased both by new legislation and savvy administrative policy (what’s wrong with that?). But it must also include a stronger concern for the environment. EO 79’s “no go” zones are a joke, since “no go” can easily be made into “go zones” under existing laws. More important, the ability of government to oversee and regulate mining activities as they impinge on the environment as well as the ability of the private sector itself to adequately protect the environment against its own mining activities, should be strengthened as a condition to responsible mining. When I attended recently a Jaycee-Senate-sponsored forum on mining featuring the Chamber of Mines, the parade example of responsible mining in the Philippines was Philex. Now Philiex is responsible for a tailings-dam leak that is feared to be much more “substantial and severe” than the Marcopper disaster in Marinduque. The DENR Mines and Geoscience Bureau letter to Philex signed by its Director Leo Jasareno states that 13,513,507 cubic meters of “discharged materials”, presumably toxic, have spilled into Balog River as of 6 September, and therefore fines Philex one billion pesos. It also twits Philex for inspecting its tailings dam only once a year. If Philex doesn’t close shop and re-open in Hong Kong, it will have a lot to do in cleaning up this mess, and working out management policy that will prevent this type of environmental disaster for the future.
Government should not waver in demanding more returns from the mining industry for the minerals they extract. After all, these minerals belong to the People. But government must also give greater weight and attention to environmental concerns, beginning with the appointment of a professional environmental scientist on the MICC. Meanwhile, if government policy flip-flops for the miners, then it must also flip-flop more for the environment, as it should flip-flop more for food security, and flip-flop even more in defense of the diverse cultures of indigenous peoples. In this manner perhaps we may even evolve a national consensus on responsible mining.
“Ang gulo gulo natin talaga sa Pinas!”
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ, is the president of the Ateneo de Davao University which convened in January this year the International Conference on Mining in Mindanao)