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A sensible annulment

We’re witnessing divorces of a different kind, institutional ones. One has been blessed: Communications has left the Department of Transportation and Communications and has found a new partner in the Department of Information and Communications Technology, so once the honeymoon is over, there’s no doubt it will be life happily ever after. After all, it’s a marriage made in heaven. Transportation is left alone and lonely. Tying the knot with the Department of Public Works and Highways is a possible way to go. Control what you’ve built. It’s a partnership that the parents (in Malacañang) should carefully research, toward the desirability of an arranged marriage.

There’s another where the partners are miserable together, fighting every day, with irreconcilable differences. They’ll never get along. So in this crazy, isolated country where divorce isn’t permitted, it’s time to annul the marriage. The Church won’t care, and it may even be supportive.

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And that’s the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Tree-huggers can’t stand miners. And miners think the huggers don’t even begin to understand them. So, annul. Let them go their separate ways. It makes no sense to promote an industry in the same department that also controls and regulates it. The department head will inevitably be biased one way or the other.

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.

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While mining is under the purview of an environment secretary, it will take too much of, and even dominate, that secretary’s time. The way the world, and especially the Philippines, is being destroyed by too many people acting with no care for that environment, we will lose the very environment we need within which to survive, let alone live a healthy life. We need a secretary who can devote 24/7 to giving us the environment we need.

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.

Mining isn’t a sari-sari store. It’s a complex process that can be easily, dangerously abused. Those who abuse, of any size, must be stopped. The good guys must be allowed to give us the products our modern society demands that we have.

It’s not just the smartphones, cars, TVs and refrigerators. It’s the clothes on our back (you need a thread and needle, a sewing machine, and a loom). It’s the food you cook. You prepare the land with a plow. You transport in a truck. EVERYTHING needs mined products.

I mustn’t forget energy. Our electricity comes from a mine, too, much of it—and will do so for many years yet. We need coal (for now, but not eventually), and natural gas—yes, that comes from a mine. So let’s go solar and wind. But what’s a windmill made of? What holds a solar panel together and delivers the electricity? Metals. Well, let’s do without electricity. But paraffin lamps need oil. That’s mined. There is nothing that doesn’t have a mined product in it somewhere, somehow.

Of course there’s Nimby—not in my backyard. But isn’t this a Christian country where you don’t foist on your neighbor what you’re not prepared to do yourself? Selfishness is not in the Bible or Koran. Generosity or doing things for others is.

A responsible miner uplifts the community and leaves the land in better shape than it was when he leaves. That’s what President Duterte should demand.

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A responsible miner builds rural roads. Yes, he uses them, but so does the community. They have roads they never had. A responsible miner builds schools, provides scholarships for deserving students, establishes a clinic for all, etc. And provides jobs for people who had none. And will have none if the mine is closed.  The list goes on and is available from any responsible mine. When my wife went to school in Baguio, the kids from Benguet were brought by bus while the kids from other villages walked. Mines bring wealth to a community; to say otherwise is nonsense. Government statistics don’t show it, they’re too macro—seeing the province, not the barangay.

What is missing is government support. The mandated share of taxes that local governments are supposed to receive come, if at all, sometimes years after they were due. Better if they be paid direct, simplifying the bureaucracy.

A Department of Mining can assure all this to happen while promoting new responsible mining to provide jobs and uplift the economy.

A Department of the Environment can ensure that the least damage is done—where forests are maintained, reefs protected, and eagles given the environment to thrive. Responsible logging should be part of it. Don’t ban logging; demand that when you cut one tree, you plant 10.

Time to annul the marriage.

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E-mail: wallace_likeitis@wbf.ph.  Read my previous columns: www.wallacebusinessforum.com.

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TAGS: Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Information and Communications Technology, Department of Public Works and Highways, Department of Transportation and Communications, environment, mining
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