Environment secretary in-waiting vows to review mining contracts

MALAYBALAY CITY(MindaNews/08 December) — Former Bukidnon congressman Nerius O. Acosta said he prefers to review all small- and large-scale mining contracts in the country once he gets appointed as environment secretary.

Acosta told MindaNews Tuesday each project will be reviewed based on his three criteria for projects that affect the environment.

He said a project should not inside a protected area or should not be in conflict with environmental conservation efforts, it should not violate any environment laws, and it should be equitable especially to indigenous peoples who claim an area considered for mining as their ancestral domain.

“We need to check if all of the three, not just one or two, are complied with,” Acosta told MindaNews after giving the keynote address at the Mindanao Rainforest Restoration Forum Tuesday at the Bukidnon State University Media Resource Center.

“It boils down to leadership,” he said as he called the mining industry “double edged.”

He cited the situation in San Fernando town in Bukidnon town where permits have been granted to small-scale mining operations.

The law defines small-scale mining projects as those that cover 20 hectares or less.

“But they operate like large-scale mining as the areas as contiguous,” Acosta said.

There is a need to look closer into the plight of the Lumads who give in to both economic and environmental pressures, he added.

“You cannot truly protect that which you do not love, you cannot love that which you do not know,” he told MindaNews as his motive for the review.

He warned that Mindanao is now threatened with a new kind of evacuees, the climate refugees who now flee their homelands not because of war or other conflicts but to look for new areas where they can survive.

He said the conditions are already present such as food scarcity which is an effect of the El Nino phenomenon or drought.

“It is the poor who are most vulnerable because they are very dependent on the natural environment,” he told MindaNews, adding the impact of climate change is pushing more people to poverty.

He said about 80 percent of the people in Bukidnon only have the environment as their “social security system.”

Acosta told the forum participants to focus efforts on the restoration of Mindanao’s rainforests as these are crucial to the life, economy, and peace and order situation of the island.

The forum gathered participants from both the government and non-government sectors, including 30 of the 32 protected area superintendents in Mindanao.

The forum focused on the need to use the native species of trees like lauan, dalaguingan, lambilohan, and kalingag in government’s reforestation projects instead of exotic ones like gmelina.

The Bukidnon Regreening Program of Gov. Alex Calingasan now uses these indigenous species in its reforestation projects with seedlings provided by the Imbayao Tribal Women’s Association.

President Benigno Aquino’s party mate, Acosta has been floated to be the next environment secretary and is just waiting for the one-year ban on the appointments of candidates to government positions to lapse.

He said he has been invited to various conferences and forums in and out of the country to prepare for the job. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)