NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews/06 February) — The closure of the operation of a number of mining firms particularly those found in Mindanao as ordered by DENR Secretary Gina Lopez came as a breather after the double whammy of suffocating events that have rocked the country lately, namely: the kidnap and the murder of Korean businessman Jee Ick Joo by PNP officers right inside Camp Crame, the PNP national headquarters, and the multi-million bribery scandal involving immigration officials for the freedom of more than 100 Chinese nationals operating online gambling in the country.
Lopez’ bold act offers a glimmer of hope for the Duterte administration that is fatally suffering from a hemorrhage of credibility. We can only hope that other similar saving graces will follow the DENR lead. However, as some quarters have warned, it might be too early to rejoice over the initial salvo.
Like the PNP and all other regulatory and law-enforcing agencies of the government, the DENR is house to incorrigible scoundrels and scalawags whose corrupt practices have long history in compromising the resources and the environment to enrich themselves. How else would you explain the arrogant and wanton disregard of environmental regulations in the operation of the mining firms without the participation of DENR officials at all levels, by sleeping purposively on their job?
A no- nonsense and apparently incorrigible DENR secretary Lopez while exceedingly important is not however sufficient to move the DENR forward in fighting criminality against the environment and the people, unless and until the agency is rid of its corrupt personnel and practices.
President Fidel Ramos in the 90s placed in the helm of DENR an academician, a marine scientist, evidently a humble and honest man, from Silliman University in the person of Dr. Angel Alcala in the hope of reforming the agency. In one commencement exercises of MSU Naawan, we invited him as our commencement speaker. As we were chatting late afternoon at the MSU Guest house where he was billeted for his task the following day, two guys arrived and handed to him a brown envelop, Dr Alcala emptied the contents on the table. Sprawled were large photos of gated posh houses with garage and lawns displaying two to three SUVs or cars, accordingly owned by DENR personnel in the region as reported by the secret lifestyle investigators of the Secretary. After 3 years at DENR attempting to stamp out corruption in the agency, Alcala created enemies from within who resisted his management. He was subsequently moved to the Commission on Higher Education as its Chair.
The DENR remains unchanged to this day. In 2014 I reported to DENR Reg.10 Director Ruth Tawantawan the cutting, apparently without permit, of some 80 30-yr old planted narra and others trees at MSU Naawan campus. Tawantawan assured me to investigate on the incident and prosecute the guilty. The investigation came out with the finding that some MSU Naawan representatives applied for cutting permits but were not issued for their failure to comply with the necessary requirements. The trees were cut, notwithstanding, violating existing laws, rules and regulations. Alerted by the investigation, top MSU Naawan officials met with Dir Tawantawan. Five months later after the cutting incident, DENR issued a cutting permit to MSU Naawan. How is that?
We can only speculate on the reason or concession why a permit was still issued after the trees had already been cut months earlier. Instead of prosecuting the violators, the director cleared them without qualms of their accountabilities.
How are we to believe the DENR with an anomaly like the above? If decisions could change in small no earth-shaking case as the foregoing, we can just imagine cases involving millions of individual and corporate investment such as in mining. Lopez needs to purge the DENR of damaging vermin in its rank if it has to move forward in halting the rape of the environment.
Moreover, mining is a highly politicized industry. A mining concession cannot be had without an investment in politics, without political connection or intervention. This operates from the national to local level of transactions. In our highly centralized mode of governance, the current DENR crusade can only succeed if the political will of the national leadership prevails over patronage or payback politics. If this happens, change has indeed come to our blighted land.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan is a retired professor and former chancellor of the Mindanao State University Naawan campus in Misamis Oriental).