Min­ing dis­pute should be lit­i­gated

Manila Times - - OPINION -

AS is fit­ting in our le­gal and con­sti­tu­tional sys­tem, the bold de­ci­sion of the De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­ment and Nat­u­ral Re­sources ( DENR) un­der Sec­re­tary Regina “Gina” Lopez to sus­pend 23 min­ing com­pa­nies and can­cel 75 min­ing con­tracts will be chal­lenged in court by the af­fected com­pa­nies and de­fended by our en­vi­ron­ment agency. This is as it should be. The DENR and Sec­re­tary Lopez, in can­celling the con­tracts, have acted to en­force Repub­lic Act 7942, or the Philip­pine Min­ing Act of 1995, which un­equiv­o­cally pro­vides that min­ing ap­pli­ca­tions and min­ing ac­tiv­i­ties are pro­hib­ited in pro­claimed wa­ter­shed for­est re­serves.

Fur­ther, Ms Lopez, in shut­ting down ear­lier 23 erring min­ing com­pa­nies and sus­pend­ing five oth­ers, has acted within her au­thor­ity, fol­low­ing the com­ple­tion of an au­dit of the min­ing op­er­a­tions of ac­tive min­ing com­pa­nies, which found their op­er­a­tions to be in­ju­ri­ous to the en­vi­ron­ment and our pre­cious wa­ter­sheds.

It is more con­clu­sive and ju­di­cious to have the con­tro­versy con­tested in court, ac­cord­ing to law and valid ar­gu­men­ta­tion, rather than have it con­tested through pub­lic­ity and pro­pa­ganda, which will churn out end­less press re­leases and de­nun­ci­a­tions with­out end.

We call at­ten­tion, first, to the law which vests in the ex­ec­u­tive the au­thor­ity to en­force the Min­ing Act, es­tab­lish the sys­tem for min­eral re­sources ex­plo­ration, de­vel­op­ment, uti­liza­tion and con­ser­va­tion, and open the sec­tor to for­eign in­vestors. The same law also de­fines the role of our en­vi­ron­ment agency to pro­vide ap­pro­pri­ate reg­u­la­tions and in­spec­tions in or­der to en­sure that min­ing op­er­a­tions do not harm the en­vi­ron­ment.

The DENR acted within the law in en­forc­ing its crack­down on il­le­gal min­ing ac­tiv­i­ties in the coun­try. Its or­ders must be fol­lowed by the af­fected com­pa­nies on the as­sump­tion that the ac­tions were car­ried out with due re­gard to due process, and that the com­pa­nies were given an op­por­tu­nity to show cause why they should not be closed down or their min­ing con­tracts can­celled.

For their part, the af­fected com­pa­nies, and per­haps the en­tire min­ing in­dus­try, should avail of the re­course of fil­ing mo­tions for re­con­sid­er­a­tion or tak­ing le­gal ac­tion against the DENR.

With re­spect to the can­celled con­tracts, Mala­cañang has com­mend­ably ex­pressed sup­port for the DENR. It has spelled out, through the pres­i­den­tial le­gal coun­sel, the grounds for gov­ern­ment ac­tion, and the ba­sis for the min­ing com­pa­nies to con­test the de­ci­sions.

Mala­cañang has stated: “Un­der the law, there are grounds for can­cel­la­tion, sus­pen­sion or clo­sure of a min­ing con­tract and min­ing op­er­a­tion, when there are vi­o­la­tions of the min­ing law.” Vi­o­la­tions must be proven by the reg­u­la­tory agency.

To de­fend them­selves against clo­sure and can­cel­la­tion of their con­tracts, the min­ing com­pa­nies will pre­dictably re­cite the taxes they pay the gov­ern­ment, the jobs they have cre­ated, and the min­ing in­dus­try’s not in­signif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to the econ­omy. Like ev­ery in­dus­try sub­ject to dras­tic re­form ( the jeep­ney in­dus­try is an­other), min­ing will dra­ma­tize the dis­lo­ca­tion that would oc­cur when mines are closed down and the jobs are lost. They will count the fam­i­lies that could be im­pov­er­ished.

We think it is just as im­por­tant to dra­ma­tize the degra­da­tion that ir­re­spon­si­ble min­ing can cause the en­vi­ron­ment, and the ir­repara­ble harm that it in­flicts on the na­tional fu­ture.

Fol­low­ing the dev­as­tat­ing earth­quake dis­as­ter in Suri­gao del Norte last week, Pres­i­dent Duterte vis­ited the prov­ince, and from the air he saw with his own eyes the aw­ful toll that min­ing has in­flicted on the Suri­gao moun­tains. There was no way to dis­guise the dam­age. It is sear­ing, re­lent­less and in­ex­cus­able.

When pre­sented with sights like these, the chal­lenge is in­escapable for the na­tion. We must de­bate again the is­sue whether min­ing should be com­pletely pro­hib­ited in this coun­try. We must re­turn to fun­da­men­tals.

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