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Is it worth it? And to whom?

The confirmation hearing on the appointment of Secretary Gina Lopez of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, originally scheduled this week but postponed till next week, may appear to be just a ho-hum, run-of-the-mill event with possibly some entertainment value—but there’s more riding on it.

On the surface, at a superficial level, it is about who is for and who is against Gina. But it’s really not the person, it is what she stands for: social justice (giving the poor their due), a sustainable environment,  and even giving the government its fair share as owner of the minerals.

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And so, at this superficial level, you have the mining industry on one side, which is objecting to the appointment of Gina (she is antimining, she is an amateur at her job), and its sympathizers.  On the other side, those who are cheering Gina on are the indigenous people, the farmers and fishers, and the NGOs and the Church, which  are fighting for them.

The status of the controversy is that Gina has issued five suspension orders and 18 cancellation orders on mining operations all over the country, based on the results of a mining audit which she had ordered conducted, and which had been shared with the mining companies involved, to observe due process….

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Understand, Reader, this is the first time that the mining companies had received such treatment. They had usually gotten their way with either a complicit executive, or judiciary, or legislature, or all of the above. And they had the money to undertake their advocacy.

So, the secretary has to go. They have no leverage with her: She is not beholden to anyone, she is not impressed by big names (she carries a big name herself), she is not open to deals. She also is a crusader for the environment.

Actually, if memory serves, five mines passed the audit, such as the Rio Tuba Mining Company. It is owned by the Zamora brothers (Ronnie is a heavyweight in Congress), so one would think that Gina was just bowing to the politically powerful, like everybody else. But no. Because she also closed Hinatuan, which is owned by them.  She says she didn’t look at who were the owners, she looked at the mines. Pretty good, don’t you think?

Is there any way that the issue of what role the mines can play in the country’s development can be resolved? Right now, the mining industry plays a very small role in the economy—it accounts for seven-tenths of 1 percent of the gross domestic product of the country, and one-half of 1 percent of the number of employed in the Philippines.  Compare that with the role of agriculture, which contributes roughly 13 percent to GDP, and 27 percent to employment.

Does that mean that we can ignore mining, close it all down? No. But the issue of mining can only be resolved when we are able to figure out whether mining at the present time is worth it. Worth it to whom? It is obviously worth it to the mining companies. But is it worth it to society as a whole?

In order to find that out, we have to add, to the private costs and benefits of mining (those borne by or accrue to the mining companies), its social costs and benefits (those not borne by or accrue to the mining companies). This can be done by estimating the total economic valuation (TEV) of the operation. But we also need to find out whether the mining activities are sustainable—i.e., whether our consumption today does not reduce the consumption potential of the future generations, for which there is wealth accounting and valuation of ecosystem services, or WAVES, which the National Economic and Development Authority is in the process of undertaking.

To give the Reader an idea of what the TEV can show, an interdisciplinary team (10 disciplines involved) from three academic institutions trained in the techniques of TEV by experts found that for three mining sites, in Bicol, in Palawan, and in Oriental Mindoro, assuming an operation span of 15 years and a 10-percent discount rate, were, respectively, a NEGATIVE P146 million, NEGATIVE P309 million, and NEGATIVE P647 million.

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See why we have to be careful? And see why Gina has to be confirmed?

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TAGS: DENR, Get Real, Gina Lopez, Inquirer column, Inquirer columnist, Inquirer Opinion, Philippine mining, Solita Collas-Monsod
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