MANILA, Philippines - Two representatives of the country's biggest business groups shed off some civility for a short moment during a heated mining debate in a forum on Friday, March 2.
"Now you're lying!" businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan shouted while pointing his finger at Regina Lopez, a staunch anti-mining advocate.
It was a rare public display of temper by Pangilinan, who controls the country's biggest mining company, against Lopez, a member of the Lopez clan.
Lopez's brothers have done business with Pangilinan in the past. Among others, Pangilinan acquired from the Lopezes the company that operates North Luzon Expressway (NLEx), water concessionaire Maynilad, and have forged a strategic partnership for the controlling stake in Manila Electric Co. (Meralco).
It happened during the open forum in front of an audience of almost 600 packed in a room that could accommodate 400. Both Lopez and Pangilinan were seated at the front table after 6 pro- and anti- mining individuals have presented their positions.
Lopez, a convenor of the anti-mining group Save Palawan Movement and the foundation of media giant ABS-CBN Corp, was initially refuting claims of pro-mining individuals at the forum that land areas targeted for mining have few alternative use.
During her turn to do a 15-minute presentation before the open forum, she highlighted how tourism could be an alternative economic resource for people in the areas targeted by miners.
Seating across Pangilinan at the table during the open forum, she addressed him directly.
"When you said that the areas that are gonna be mined are ugly anyway, that is so not true, " she said, looking at Pangilinan.
She went on to describe how beautiful and how pure the stream waters are in Brooke's Point and Bataraza, the 2 towns in southern Palawan that have been at the center of her advocacy to stop government from issuing mining permits there.
"When you say that all these areas for mining are ugly and alienable, i really think you should go and visit it," she told Pangilinan.
Incidentally, Pangilinan-led Philex Mining Corp, the country's biggest gold producer, does not operate in Palawan.
Pangilinan then stood up and harked back at Lopez: "Gina, have you been to Padcal? In Silangan in Surigao del Norte? Who would go there and develop a tourism site? There's nothing there," he said in a mild tone, referring to the 2 current locations of Philex's mining operations in Luzon and Mindanao.
He then went on to enumerate what Philex has done to their host communities in terms of reforestation projects, as well as free housing, education and medical care.
When Pangilinan sat down, Lopez stood up to start to refute him. The audience cheered and jeered.
"Maybe that place is nice," she acknowledged.
"But when you make a statement that all the [mining] areas are ugly anyway… that's the point," she said in an attempt to return to her original point.
Immediately, Pangilinan stood up and said, "I did not say that. Now you're lying!"
Before the incident with Pangilinan, Lopez was in another exchange with a different pro-mining person in the room.
Gerard Brimo, president and CEO of Nickel Mining, which operates in Bataraza in Palawan, spoke next to Lopez during the presentation.
Lopez had earlier said during her presentation, "you know I love you, Gerry, but mining is bad for the environment."
When it was his turn to make his presentation, Brimo returned the "affection" and said, "I love you, too, Gina, but you don't know what you are talking about."
During the open forum afterwards, Brimo apologized to Lopez for his tirades.
"That wasn't very nice of me. I have to admit. We have to maintain a level of discourse that is civil," he said.
Lopez, however, retorted, "I don't lie. My stand in life is truth and the common good. I have been to Rio Tuba. I have a farmer with me from Bataraza who can say how it was full of trees before. Gerry, I took the pictures myself. I don't lie."
Her succeeding statements were peppered with "I don't lie."
She went on to cite statistics on how mining has made little dent on the economy of host communities.
"If mining operations are small, then why are the poorest areas in the country the mining areas? The key to the fruit is the pudding. Where is the pudding?"
"No one can tell me a [mining] place where people are happy or fully rehabilitated. So why are we doing this when there is no track record to speak of. That's the question," she noted.
In an interview with Rappler after the forum ended, she said she expected criticisms against her position at the event, adding that she's even willing to visit the sites of Pangilinan's Philex Mining operations.
"I will go and visit [Philex mining sites] if they will invite me," she said.
"I expected this, but not how they dragged my family into it," she added, referring to one of the questions raised during the open forum on the case of leaking oil pipes of First Philippine Industrial Corp.
Her relatives run FPIC, which has been involved in the oil leakage issue that has endangered a score of families in the outskirts of Makati City.
At the forum, she had said her family has "spent hundreds of millions of pesos to fix the unfortunate accident and they have committed to clean it for 3 to 5 years. That's much more than what mining companies have done with their abandoned mines." - Rappler.com
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