MANILA–Ousted Environment and Natural Resources chief Gina Lopez has challenged Department of Finance (DOF) Secretary Carlos “Sonny” Dominguez to justify his claim that mining is beneficial to the country.
“Prove it, Sonny,” she urged the DOF chief Tuesday during a forum in Metro Manila.
She raised the challenge as Dominguez last week cited need to promote – not suppress – extractive industries nationwide, noting these are essential to the Philippine economy’s development.
Economic development will generate revenues for government and communities hosting such industries, he also said in DOF’s May 11, 2017 press release.
Lopez is skeptical about Dominguez’ claim, however, saying available data indicate otherwise.
Less than a fraction of 1.0 percent of the Philippine population earn millions of dollars from mining, showed data she presented during the forum.
She said about 95 percent of income from mining goes out of the country.
“Those numbers don’t show that mining is indeed creating wealth for the country,” she noted.
Total economic valuation of mining’s impacts in Bicol, Palawan and Mindoro provinces show communities there lost more than gained from mineral extraction, ABS-CBN Foundation advocacy head Norie Garcia said at the forum.
Mines and Geosciences Bureau data presented at the forum also showed mining accounted for only PHP90.7 billion or 0.7 percent of Philippine GDP in 2014 and generated that year 235,000 jobs comprising just 0.6 percent of total nationwide employment then.
Tourism accounted for PHP982.4 billion or 7.8 percent of 2014 GDP and generated 4.7 million jobs representing 12.5 percent of total Philippine employment that year, however, showed Department of Tourism data presented at the event.
Videos aired at the forum featured people who spoke about their ill health and hardship from effects of mining in their communities.
“The numbers and people’s lives don’t support the claim mining is good for the country,” said Lopez.
She reiterated her advocacy for eco-tourism and other environment-friendly activities, noting these can help the country shift towards sustainable development.
“Sustainable development pertains to renewable and replenishable resources – minerals are finite resources and once mined, these are lost forever,” she said.
Mined out sites can no longer be restored to original condition, she also warned earlier.
As Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) head, Lopez ordered closure of 23 mines nationwide for violations cited in this agency’s audit and cancellation of 75 mineral production-sharing agreements covering watersheds.
She also banned open pit mining in the country.
Her orders drew criticism from mining stakeholders and other sectors.
This month, Commission on Appointments (CA) rejected Lopez’ appointment at DENR on technical and non-technical grounds amidst mining issues and other concerns raised against her.
Various environment groups protested CA’s decision while lauding Lopez’ zeal in protecting the environment.
According to Dominguez, however, improved governance for extractive industries – instead of an “arbitrary” ban on mining – is the way to create people’s wealth from natural resources nationwide while ensuring environmental sustainability.
“The solution is not to arbitrarily ban extractive industries, whatever contractual obligations government has with investors,” he said at the Philippine Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative national conference in Metro Manila this month.
He proposed such solution, noting an activity can be environment-and business-friendly at the same time.
“Those aren’t mutually exclusive inclinations – only zealots think they are,” he said.
Amidst some sectors’ opposition to Lopez’ orders, Dominguez assured mining suspensions “on the basis of unseen audits” and “honest industries subjected to levies without legal basis” will “never again” happen in the country.
He said the administration “will be firm but fair” in exercising governance while practicing transparency in all its processes and abiding by global best practices in ensuring sustainable development.
Lopez reiterated DENR’s mining audit during her incumbency was above-board with mine officials present during the assessment.
She also denied requiring mining companies to pay levies without legal basis.
Ordering such companies to set aside PHP2 million per hectare of mining-disturbed land is a measure for helping farmers affected by mineral extraction activities there, she noted.
“It’s the DENR Secretary’s fundamental duty to protect the environment from damages caused by extractive operations,” she said. “Where it’s imminent such operations will endanger lives and properties, and existing laws are not clear on available remedies, the DENR Secretary under the precautionary principle is duty-bound to act with dispatch so any foreseen danger is addressed.”