Presidential aspirants have expressed willingness to allow “responsible” and “sustainable” mining operations in the Philippines, but cited the need for safeguards to protect affected communities.
Senator Panfilo Lacson and former lawmaker Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., during their separate interviews with television host Boy Abunda this week, acknowledged that the extraction of minerals has been a “valuable” source of revenue for the government.
For Lacson, the next Philippine leader should take a cue from President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration on lifting bans on open-pit mining and new mining deals.
“You cannot kill the mining industry because it is a major industry in the country,” he said during the interview which was broadcasted on YouTube on Monday.
Marcos echoed Lacson’s sentiment, claiming that the Philippines should take advantage of local resources like nickel and lithium.
“We have a lot of natural resources in the Philippines. We should, especially in these difficult times, we should take advantage of that,” he said in his interview aired Tuesday.
The two Palace hopefuls, however, criticized the supposed weaknesses in the system which allowed abuses to flourish.
Lacson particularly lambasted patronage or “palakasan system” where state officials purportedly turn a blind eye on mining firms’ violations. He also hit the small-scale mining companies for violating Philippine laws.
Marcos, for his part, said he was wary of open-pit operations, noting that harmful chemicals could leak out of the former mining sites.
“When it comes to open-pit mining, I think I’m a bit wary about that,” he said. “It is very difficult to control.”
The strongest opposition on mining operations was arguably articulated by Vice President Leni Robredo, who is also running for president.
Robredo said if she wins in the 9 May elections, she would scrap the Duterte administration’s order allowing new mining agreements.
“I will revoke it,” she said, referring to Executive Order 130 signed by Duterte in April 2021 which lifts the government’s nine-year-old moratorium on granting new mining permits.
“For me, it is important that when it comes to the environment, we should empower those who will be affected,” she said in her interview aired Wednesday.
Even then, the Vice President said that she was in favor of “sustainable” mining, which she said would only be attained through reforms.
Among the reforms proposed by Robredo include making concerned government agencies accountable, namely, the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources as well as the Mines and Geo-sciences Bureau of the Climate Change Commission.
She also stressed that the next administration should ensure that affected communities benefit from mining operations.
“We’ll make sure that accountability is clear and even in choosing who heads these offices, the voices of stakeholders and environmental advocates will be heard,” she said.
The passage of the National Land Use Act is needed to identify “no-mining zones” in the country, Robredo added.
Meanwhile, both Lacson and Marcos said that the government should enforce Philippine laws to avoid abuses on mining operations.
Tapping environmental groups to monitor the implementation of regulations can help solve the problem, said Lacson, who previously served as police chief before becoming a senator.
Marcos, meanwhile, said that mining operations should be far from communities to minimize its impact.
He also said the compensation received by mine workers should be improved.
Environmental groups like Alyansa Tigil Mina have slammed the aspirants’ push for mining operations, saying that “responsible mining” neither has legal definition nor policies or parameters to measure.
“Then we can’t hold DENR or the mining companies accountable when they fail to comply with their claimed ‘responsible mining,'” said Jaybee Garganera, national coordinator of Alyansa Tigil Mina.
Green advocates have long warned that allowing mining operations will worsen threats to the environment and its defenders.
When he assumed office in 2016, Duterte was outspoken in his opposition to mining, which he blamed for degrading the environment.
He even appointed anti-mining advocate Gina Lopez as secretary of the DENR, who oversaw the closure and suspension of about 26 mining operations found in violation of state regulations.
Groups said Duterte’s 2021 decision to overturn a nationwide moratorium on new mining projects was done amid pressure to revitalize the Philippine economy battered by the coronavirus pandemic.