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Split it

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Split it

The acrimonious controversy over the role of Gina Lopez as secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources brings to the forefront what I’ve long argued: that the DENR should be split. You just can’t find one person who is, first, a strict environmentalist and, second, a supporter of responsible extraction of the natural resources we must have in the modern world.

It was sad to see her go. She’s a passionate woman who cares for the protection of the environment. But she was unable to institute a balance in her passion, and in her zeal probably bypassed required legal procedures and reasonable processing of her activities.

In my column “A sensible annulment” (7/7/16), I wrote:

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“We need a DENR where a passionate environmentalist can fight tooth and nail for every tree, shrub and eagle, even for crocodiles. And Gina Lopez is the perfect choice for this. For the next six years climate change will ever increasingly demand our attention. The desecration of our forests, not by miners but by illegal loggers and local folks eking out a living, requires far more attention and action to stop it. The lack of parks in cities, of the oxygen to fight pollution, bothers me greatly.”

I added: “We need a different department for mining where the leader knows the industry intimately but comes from a strong, ethical and well-balanced history, a leader who knows the difference between responsible and irresponsible. In mining, responsible means miners who do minimum damage (there is always some during the mining operation), one who actively, even aggressively, supports the local communities, pays their taxes, and puts the area back into a fully green condition when finished (generally between 30 and 50 years). The irresponsible are just criminals and must be put out of their misery in ‘Duterte fashion.’

“There can be no ‘bleeding heart’ concern for the small guy when it comes to mining. You use picks and shovels, fine. But give them to a 12-year-old kid. You’re closed. And thrown in jail, I would hope. You use mercury to leach out the gold, you’re finished.”

There was no reaction. So let me try again.

The two areas are in conflict. Both are hugely complex and require considerable effort and time devoted to properly manage them. And different expertise, different kinds of people.

Now is a good time to split the DENR. Two leaders with the appropriate expertise can be chosen with the least dislocation.

Interestingly, it seems it can be done with little effort as it can be done with an executive order. Gloria Arroyo did it during her presidency when she took communications out of the Department of Transportation and Communications and transferred it to the Department of Science and Technology with an EO. It was never questioned.

So President Duterte can do it. But if I were in his shoes I’d bring lawmakers onside through informal meetings to seek their concurrence. And I’d request that they later confirm it into law so there’s never any question as to its legitimacy. And budgets can be properly assigned. In the interim, the DENR budget can just be split for the remaining six months of the year.

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The employees of the DENR can be given the choice of where they’d like to go. I’d like the secretaries to be known experts in the field. An environmentalist, but a pragmatic, balanced one. And a miner from the responsible side of the industry, not necessarily someone from a mining company. In fact, perhaps preferably not, just someone highly knowledgeable of the sector. Similarly, I’d not choose an environment secretary from an NGO as he or she is likely to be too rabid. But someone expert on the environmental issues, and a balanced approach to the sector.

This was written before Roy Cimatu, a former chief of staff of the Armed Forces, was appointed DENR Secretary. I don’t think it changes my basic thesis. It just means one secretary has already been appointed, and the split can be made before he settles in, with him taking the post that best suits his expertise.

President Duterte promised to revolutionize the bureaucracy for greater efficiency and operation of services. Here’s one action that would help achieve that. It’s a split that needs to happen.
E-mail: wallace_likeitis@wbf.ph. Previous columns: www.wallacebusinessforum.com

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TAGS: Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Gina Lopez, mining
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