BEFORE I begin let me state this risk I take: the messages I have written below could get me fired from my regular job.
But I feel that they are messages that have to be made, and if no one will make them then I will.
The key message is this, and it is meant for President Duterte: Mr. President, I think you made a big mistake when you chose as Secretary of the DENR a woman who was tiring you out with her presentations. The sub-message is this: because of that mistake, millions of ordinary people will suffer — the very millions who trusted you with your vote and who have been hoping that you would bring even better days ahead for them.
You don’t know me, Mr. President. But two, or three members of your Cabinet do. I knew your Executive Secretary in the 1980s when he was with the PECABAR law firm and I was the legislative assistant of Assemblyman Renato Cayetano. I got to know your Peace adviser when he was chairman of the Philippine Press Institute and I was helping find supporters for his programs. And I have known your Health Secretary for almost fifty years, since we were toddlers at the UP Elementary School and she was playing the role of the Virgin Mary and I was St. Joseph in a kindergarten Christmas nativity scene.
If you are interested, they can tell you a little about me, and about my passions, and about what drives me. But let me tell you why your choice of DENR secretary drives me up the wall.
I resigned in 2012 after fourteen years after working at Coca-Cola and found myself with a mining organization, walking through a newly planted forest in what used to be a mined-out pit. And my surprise stemmed from years of hearing the same criticism of mining that the anti-mining forces generate: mining brings poverty, mining damages the environment, mining does not contribute to the national wealth. All these messages were contrary to what I was seeing: a community that grew out of nothing into a barangay of over 17,000 people whose lives have been transformed for the better because of a nickel mining operation in Rio Tuba almost at the southernmost tip of Palawan. A community that had the benefit of a hospital to provide first response before, if necessary, being transported nearly five hours by road north to the more complete hospitals in Puerto Princesa. A community that had the benefit of a La Salle-run school equipped with an all-iMac computer laboratory that many schools even in Metro Manila could not duplicate. A community that benefited from the huge disposable income of mine workers who did not have to worry about rent or education or health costs because these were all provided for.
And, as I mentioned earlier, a community that transformed mined-out pits into forests with indigenous species that, after two years, attract fauna with such diversity that you wouldn’t think there was a forest there just three years prior.
Walking through the forest at Rio Tuba I immediately realized the stark contrast between what we used to do at Coke and what they do at responsible mining organizations: every time we built a public school.
At Coke, we took out full-page ads to tell the world. Why? Because we sold you soft drinks and hope you’d buy our products because you’d see a public school behind every can. Every time a responsible mining organization planted a forest, built a hospital or equipped a school they didn’t tell anyone, because they didn’t have to: they were not selling anything to the public and to spend hundreds of millions for advertising was impractical.
But whenever there was an incident at a mining site – and incidents, as we would say at Coke, are inevitable – the media and the anti-mining network of civil society did a good job at making it a case against the whole industry in general so much so that soon enough the industry was demonized whether or not you were a responsible mining operator.
Your choice as DENR Secretary has consistently held on to that mindset: that there is NO responsible mining operation in the country and all must be closed down. I will bet that if you scratch deep enough, you will see that this is still her strong belief despite public statements to the contrary since she took office one month ago.
Note, for example, that while she is DENR secretary, since July 1, has she gone after any illegal loggers? Or illegal fishpond operators? No. But why not, when the bureaucracy that oversees forests is separate and distinct from that which oversees mining and so she could have launched parallel but separate campaigns against ills in both sectors?
I believe this is the case because she has been single-mindedly focused on demonizing the mining industry (and the coal industry) on the basis of pseudo-ideological rather than practical or scientific knowledge. And one proof is her avowed opposition to open pit mining – a process that is far easier to monitor than mining tunnels and shafts for environmental compliance by the simple use of drones, and which is a globally accepted process for mining certain minerals that can only be found on the surface of the earth and thus can only be mined in this manner.
And by the way, will this opposition to open pits apply to cement production, which requires quarrying for limestone in exactly the same process?
Which means that under your Administration we will be importing cement soon?
Your choice for DENR secretary tries to wrap herself around the cloak of fighting for the poor and putting an end to suffering. But because she doesn’t apparently understand that she has bitten more than she could chew, she is on the verge of actually creating more hardship and suffering.
I know this personally because right after Yolanda my bosses dispatched me with a planeload of PGH doctors and medicines to assist the residents of Manicani island and of Guiuan, Eastern Samar – the first LGU on which SuperTyphoon Yolanda made landfall. That was November 12 – four days after Yolanda, and for almost every other month since then I have returned to Guiuan and to Manicani and I have seen how the island residents have had their damaged houses replaced by transitional homes, how three of the four barangays now have covered courts that serve as social halls, how the barangays have water systems.
More importantly, I have seen how more than 450 islanders now earn about P6 million a month from loading waste ore stockpile – an amount of money that they will definitely never ever earn from agriculture in the poor soil of the island, or from fishing in the over-dynamited waters around the Leyte Gulf.
What replacement income will be provided these individuals, residents who themselves have chosen to have loading from their island under the important principle of subsidiarity? Mr. President, unless a real alternative is provided them, it would appear to me that informal settlers have even better “rights” than these individuals legally at work because we have a principle that no informal settler will see his house demolished unless he is guaranteed relocation!
Despite her claims, Mr. President, your DENR secretary does not understand how the poor live or what challenges they face because, let us admit it, she never for a day lived the life of someone who has had to worry about tomorrow. And this shows in the way she throws around slogans and ejaculations while her actions cause pain and suffering.
Oh, and Mr. President: if she were to tell you – as she tries to tell the world – that mining will “destroy” the island, here is a fact that proves she does know of what she speaks: as the DENR as early as 2003 has made clear, of the 1,200 hectares of the island, only 33 hectares of the island is to be mined.
That’s less than 3% of the island.
That’s the DENR secretary we, who toil daily to try to institutionalize responsible mining in the country, now labor under. That’s the DENR secretary who now threatens the future of the residents of the island of Manicani who have no other options left but to work for a responsible mining operation.
In fact, Mr. President, may I ask this of you: to convey to your DENR secretary this dare. You see, by the time I joined Nickel Asia in 2012, your Environment secretary had been at work at the Pasig River Rehab commission for two years, having been appointed there in August 2010. She claims that mining damages the environment; I claim that she doesn’t deserve her “promotion” from Pasig River rehab chair to DENR secretary because she hasn’t accomplished her job. And this is my dare:
I will take a glass of water from the Rio Tuba river into which the effluents of our mining operations flow and will drink from it, if your DENR Secretary will take a glass of water from the Pasig River and drink from it.
If she declines my dare, Mr. President, then I think you have all the reason to tell her that maybe she should first return to the Pasig River and get that job done before taking on the DENR role which is far more than running after the industry she has long loved to demonize in sweeping statements that are unsubstantiated, unfair, and yes, even unChristian.
Thank you for your time, Mr. President. I am done with this piece and now let me spruce up my CV.
By Jose Bayani Baylon