MANILA, Philippines – Catholic bishops and local government officials reject Executive Order (E.O.) 79, Malacañang’s new policy on mining, warning that it threatens local autonomy and could give rise to violence in mining areas.
Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes opposed provisions giving the national government primacy over local government units in determining mining operations. He said it would create a wedge between the national government and local sectors involved in mining.
“The policy is actually the same, if not worse than the other mining polices because everything will be dictated by the national government,” Bastes said on July 8, on the sidelines of a plenary meeting of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
Section 12 of E.O. 79 directs the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the LGUs to conform to the regulations set by the national government.
“LGUs shall confine themselves only to the imposition of reasonable limitations on mining activities conducted within their respective territorial jurisdictions that are consistent with national laws and regulations,” the E.O. reads.
Bastes said he fears that the new E.O. “will infringe on existing local ordinances against mining or even of local residents who are against mining in their area.”
“If this happens, we are all in the dark. This is a kind of situation that we do not want,” Bastes said.
Some 40 governors in the country led by Albay Gov Joey Salceda vowed to question the executive order because they believe it threatens the autonomy of local government units.
Ateneo School of Government (ASoG) Dean Antonio La Viña shares the bishop’s concern.
“My first reading is it’s a good E.O. The only thing I do not like is the ‘primacy over LGUs by the national government,'” said La Viña.
“It is wrongly articulated and could be illegal. I think there is no conflict between national and local government. Both have powers that can stand separately from each other. The E.O. should have urged harmonization of powers rather than supremacy. But overall I congratulate President Aquino,” La Viña added.
Leftist environmental group Kalikasan chairman Clemente Bautista said the E.O. “strengthens the ranks of anti-mining communities now that they are allied with local government units.”
He added: “It undermines LGUs that will craft ordinances that will determine their own economic development or oppose destructive projects.”
LGUs have taken positions on mining that are not consistent with national policies. Various LGUs, for example, have banned open-pit mining in their areas. But there is no national law banning it.
A handful of the country’s 82 provinces and other local government units have already passed ordinances banning either open-pit mining or large-scale commercial mining.
Among these provinces and cities are South Cotabato and nearby Davao City.
In 2010, South Cotabato passed an ordinance banning open-pit mining in the province which put into jeopardy the commercial operation of Sagittarius Mining Inc.
In press conference in Malacanang on Monday, July 9, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said the national government will respect the ban on open-pit mining imposed by South Cotabato. “It is being respected until such time the provision on open pit ban is declared invalid or contrary to national law by a competent court,” said Paje.
In general, it is the national government that issues large-scale mining permits while the LGUs issue small-scale mining permits.
The new E.O. also limits powers of LGUs over small-scale mining. E.O. 79 upholds R.A. 7076 over other policies on small-scale mining. It provides that small-scale mining can only be allowed in “Minahang Bayan”—areas identified by the national government.
This limits LGUs, which previously enjoyed full control of small-scale mining operations and had the final say on which companies would be allowed to operate in their areas and where.
Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) director Leo Jasareno said it’s important to identify “Minahang Bayan” areas to address problems with illegal small scale miners or dirty mining.
Balance of interests
Malacañang conceded that the new mining policy will not make everybody happy.
La Viña praised Malacanang’s move to impose a moratorium on new permits until Congress passes a new law on mining.
“I support the moratorium and the inclusion of no go areas. I am glad that our proposal on a moratorium was accepted. That’s brave of the President to have done this,” La Viña said.
Former Presidential Assistant for Mindanao Jesus Dureza, now consultant of the Zamboanga del Norte-located mining firm TVI Resources Development Inc., also welcomed the E.O., saying it set parameters and mechanisms that would ensure responsible and sustainable mining.
“We should all come out and strongly support it,” Dureza further said.
The new E.O. imposes a moratorium on large-scale mining permits pending the passage of a new mining law that will define revenue-sharing schemes and environmental safety requirements, among others.
Existing permits will be respected but will be reviewed.
The E.O. also expands “no-go” areas. Aside from protected areas, the E.O. declares tourism sites and island ecosystems among the no-go areas. Paje said the Department of Tourism has declared 78 sites. The DENR has yet to define island ecosystems.
In a November 2011 policy paper, the Ateneo School of Government (ASoG) called for a moratorium on new mining permits until a new mining policy is implemented.
Paje said the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) will submit to Congress a draft of the bill, which would nullify the existing Mining Act. President Aquino will certify it as urgent.
Congress will be the next battleground. Pending before the Supreme Court is a petition questioning the legality of the Mining Act, but this would be rendered moot once Congress passes a new mining law.
Alternative mining bill
Claiming that the national government is “very sympathetic” to the mining companies, Bastes said it’s important that Congress passes a new law to supersede E.O. 79.
Catholic bishops are pushing for the immediate passage of the Alternative Minerals Management Bill (AMMB) pending in Congress.
“I am hoping the Mining Act of 1995 and this new E.O. will be superseded by the alternative mining bill,” said Bastes.
The Catholic bishops made the decision to support the AMMB on July 5 after a national forum on mining organized by the National Secretariat for Social Action – Justice and Peace (NASSA), the social development arm of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). It was attended by about 50 bishops.
“We cannot deny how mining has negatively affected the situation in our country; the farmers, fisherfolks, indigenous people; everyday we are confronted with the reality that it has to be changed,” said NASSA chair Broderick Pabillo.
“What we need is a policy that will have sustainable and positive impact on generations ahead,” Pabillo added.
The alternative mining bill is sponored by Sen Sergio Osmeña in Senate and Ifugao Rep Teddy Brawner Baguilat.
“This bill is about the people, for the people, and by the people,” said Baguilat.
The alternative mining bill calls for fair revenue sharing, environmental protection and safeguard of human rights including indigenous peoples’ rights.
Aside from the Church, various groups—including the Leftist groups—are supporting the alternative mining bill.
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