QUEZON CITY – Environment Secretary Regina “Gina” Lopez vowed to investigate reported abuses by mining companies in Mindanao, and warned erring operations of penal repercussions for their acts.
Lopez made the announcement in front of more than 3,000 Mindanao activists who joined a national march to and gathering outside the Batasang Pambansa to hear the first State of the Nation Address of President Rodrigo Duterte.
“This is my commitment, the DENR will investigate the mining firms who broke the law,” Lopez said, and if they did, “first they will be suspended, then they will pay the damages” to the communities affected.
The investigation for the mining firms in Mindanao, according to Lopez,”should not just be technical but also, social, environmental”.
Mindanaoans cheered at her announcement and shouted “panagutin! (be held accountable)”.
“Mindanao is really so rich,” she said but, “the problem is its resources are not used to benefit the people.”
“The Duterte administration will change that,” she added.
Mining in the Philippines is governed by the controversial Philippine Mining Act of 1995. The law says that “all mineral resources in public and private lands within the territory and exclusive economic zone of the Republic of the Philippines are owned by the State. It shall be the responsibility of the State to promote their rational exploration, development, utilization and conservation through the combined efforts of government and the private sector in order to enhance national growth in a way that effectively safeguards the environment and protect the rights of affected communities,” stated in Section 2. Declaration of Policy.
When asked to comment about the mining act, she said “it must be reviewed.”
“[There] must be a significant change,” she said.
Lopez said that 82 percent of the mining net worth goes to the company while only 18 percent goes to the country. “That is so lopsided,” she said referring to the sharing of income.
“And all the money from mining goes to the national government, very little goes to the community, it is not good at all,” she added.
Even the issue on coal mining, Lopez said that it must be investigated.
“You cannot run coal mines and everybody get sick,” she said.
“We have to improve the emission standards. We can’t make money and let people suffer, we can’t build an economy based on suffering,” she added.
Lopez said that the ‘economy based on suffering’ is “crazy” and said that “it is not the way to go.”
The environment secretary said that she doesn’t mind people getting rich as long as it does not create suffering.
“We cannot make money and let people suffer,” she said.
Manilakbayan ng Mindanao 2016 spokesperson Bai Ali Indayla lauded the pronouncement of Lopez describing it as a “positive stand” on the calls of the people of Mindanao.
“We hope to stop, cancel the operations and suspend mining companies [that violated the laws],” Indayla said.
Indayla said that this will be a symbol of unity between the people of Mindanao and the DENR to forward programs of the agency.(davaotoday.com)