SC Justice Carpio to Mindanao lawyers: help prevent rape of mineral resources

In his keynote speech before participants of the Mindanao regional convention of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines here from Nov. 21 to 23, Carpio said lawyers of the past have failed to protect the forests from logging companies, so the present crop of lawyers should not make the same mistake when it comes to mining.

"We ought to know better now in the exploitation of our mineral resources. We must learn from our past mistakes in the exploitation of our forest resources, otherwise we will be forced to repeat the same mistakes in the exploitation today of our mineral resources," he told around 650 lawyers from the IBP's Mindanao chapters.

He said the present generation of lawyers has to take the cudgels.

"Because of neglect, inaction or whatever, the generation of lawyers before you apparently failed to take the cudgels for the Filipino people in protecting the nation's interest in the exploitation of our forests," he added.

Carpio voiced out the dissenting opinion in the 2005 Supreme Court decision on La Bugal-B'laan v. Ramos case that declared with finality the constitutionality of the 1995 Philippine Mining Act.

The SC justice said fair treatment to the people means two things: "First, giving the people their fair share in the income from the exploitation of the natural resources of the environment. Second, protecting the environment to insure that even after the exploitation of the natural resources, the environment continues to sustain the lives and livelihood of the people," he said.

He said how the people benefit from the use of natural resources is crucial.

"This is the policy that will guarantee peace and development, in Mindanao and elsewhere in the country," Carpio told the lawyers at the opening ceremonies of the three-day convention.

Carpio pointed out that he could not give further comments on his dissenting opinion but could comment on whether the executive department follows the High Court's majority opinion and what lessons lawyers from Mindanao could learn from it.

He said no less than then Environment Secretary Angelo Reyes admitted that under the profit sharing formula in DENR's DAO 99-56 approved in 2005 upon the promulgation of the La Bugal case in February that year, that the government will receive "somewhere from zero to nil" in the mining revenues of foreign contractors.

Carpio cited estimates that the country has P47 trillion in mineral wealth.

He said the present administrative order, DAO 2007-12, issued in July 2007, covers only Foreign Technical Assistance Agreements (FTAAs) and does not even apply to the two only existing FTAAs because they were granted before the order was issued.

An FTAA gives a holder exclusive rights to conduct mineral exploration in a contract area.

Carpio also cited that the fiscal scheme does not also cover Mineral Production Sharing Agreements (MPSA).

"There is no law or DAO that gives the Filipino people any share, not even a single centavo, in the profits from MPSAs," he said.

"And yet all the existing mining permits issued by the government are MPSAs except for two FTAAs," he added.

As of July 2007, Carpio noted 262 MPSA approved covering 422,804 hectares of mineral lands.

"You can just imagine where the bulk, even all, of the profits from the P47 trillion mineral wealth of the nation is now going – certainly not to the coffers of the State, certainly not to the Filipino people, certainly not to your benefit," he said.

Carpio then urged lawyers to do something to close the gap.

"This constant struggle to close the gaps through reason and the legal processes may be tedious but this is the only way to avoid a bloody closure of the gaps between law and justice. This is the only guarantee to maintain peace in our land," he said.

He cited the past experience in Mindanao in the 1950s to 1960s when people did not mind the indiscriminate logging because forests by then seemed inexhaustible.

"Now we regret bitterly how we squandered our finite forest resources and how indiscriminate logging has destroyed our environment. And with all that logging, did the people of Mindanao receive their fair share in the profits from the exploitation of this precious natural resource? How much did the State earn from all that logging? Only a pittance consisting of minimal forest fees and charges," he said in his four-page speech.

IBP Davao City chapter president Manuel Quibod, who furnished MindaNews a copy of Carpio's speech Friday, said the SC justice is open to a review on the constitutionality of the mining law decision if another case reaches the high court.

Quibod said they focused the lectures and updates of the convention to peace and environment issues as these are the timely issues that confront the people of Mindanao.

He said lawyers could be a part of micro level solutions to the conflicts in Mindanao and the problems in the environment. He said the choice of topics could help lawyers at least avoid becoming party to the conflict.

The lectures for the Mandatory Continuing Legal Education in the convention also focused on the theme: "Katarungan sa Kinaiyahan, Kalinaw sa Mindanaw (Justice in environment, Peace in Mindanao).

Peace Process Adviser Jesus Dureza gave a presentation on Alternative Dispute Resolution, particularly on resolving the conflict in Mindanao.

Dr. Danda Juanday, executive director of the Bangsamoro Development Agency, gave an MCLE prescribed lecture on "Bangsamoro Development in the Conflict-Affected Areas in Mindanao".

Atty. Ronaldo Gutierez of Upholding Life and Nature (ULAN) discussed legal issues in defending the environment. APEC Rep. Edgar Valdez discussed "Energizing Mindanao and other alternative sources of energy.”

Lawyer Roderick Salazar gave updates in substantive law, specifically mining laws and investments.

Dr. Antonio La Viña, a former Environment undersecretary, presented a lecture on international law and conventions on global warming and climate change. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)