‘Now you’re lying!’

What Mr Pangilinan has chosen to ignore is that there are very objective and robust ways, recognized all over the world, to measure environmental damage

Ino ManaloThe exchange between Ms Regina Lopez and Mr Manuel Pangilinan regarding the Mining Law is interesting from the point of view of what it communicates about how the mining debate is being positioned.

Ms Lopez began by talking about the natural beauty of certain areas marked for mining. She then went on, during her rejoinder, to make the lamentable blunder of quoting Mr Pangilinan as saying that all mining sites are unsuitable for tourism.  

A review of a video clip of the speech will show that, in fact, his actual statement only involved “most” mining sites. Mr Pangilinan then retorted that Ms Lopez was lying.

Some say that Ms Lopez got what she deserved. Surely, she should have known that a statement employing the comprehensive “all” is rarely defensible.

One could, on the other hand, endlessly discuss whether Mr Pangilinan was being too harsh. It was clear that at the time Ms Lopez was speaking, she had become quite flustered and therefore prone to making mistakes.

Some may say that though technically Ms Lopez was inaccurate, it is a different matter to accuse her of lying given the extemporaneous public context in which she was speaking.

What such a discussion on the parameters of lies tends to obscure, however, are the graver implications contained in the speech Mr Pangilinan gave earlier, before the unfortunate exchange.

A closer examination of the video will show that Mr Pangilinan had spoken of “an attempt to introduce the new concept of Total Economic Value or TEV in assessing mining opportunities.”

He then goes on to say that the “calculus of the value is intangible, elusive, and extremely subjective” citing the need to come up with ways “to quantify and test the values attached” to specific examples such as a sunset, early morning mist, and the music of water in a stream.

One cannot but be bothered by the subtle reference to the concept of Total Economic Value (TEV) as “new”, indicating that those who allude to it are working with something that is yet unverified and novel.

In fact, TEV is definitely not new. It is said to have been introduced more than 20 years ago in a 1987 essay by Peterson and Sorg.

It has been taken up by many economists since then and its precepts are pretty much established as the basis for company environmental protocol in industrialized nations.

Mr Pangilinan’s coy mention of the need to “quantify and test values” for sunsets, mist, and water suggests that those who would bring up such things are irrational or at least prone to favor that which is “intangible, elusive, and extremely subjective.”

What he has chosen to ignore is that there are very objective and robust ways, recognized all over the world, to measure environmental damage.

One can easily point to quantifiable standards for unacceptable amounts of pollutants in the air or in water so as to avoid conditions which may obscure sunsets or hamper the enjoyment of streams.

There are tangible statistics for unsustainable levels of forest loss so that water reserves do not dry up, ensuring that there will still be mists in the morning.

It seems strange to avow one’s concern for nature and then to pretend that there is still a need to “quantify and test values” after decades of environmental struggles, biological and economic research as well as legislation. 

How can Mr Pangilinan expect to be involved in productive discussions if he precludes engagement by brandishing the specter of being “extremely subjective” especially when such a label is patently false?

It is even more uncomfortable to listen to Mr Pangilinan’s example of his acquisition of an ailing PLDT and how people continued to be provided with telephone service while the company’s finances were being fixed. What is he implying? Is he implying that it is irrational for the public to expect that mining operations should be suspended while environmental concerns are still being worked out?

Surely Mr Pangilinan does not mean to propose that digging up a mountain is the same as providing the public with telephones?

Mr Pangilinan also declares that it is incredulous for one plane crash to shut down an entire industry.  It seems doubtful that any of his serious critics are suggesting this. 

Then again it may be useful to remind Mr Pangilinan that crashes of DC-10s compelled government officials in the United States to take on the difficult burden of grounding large sectors of the air transport industry until jets could be examined and eventually completely pulled out of circulation.

The point here is that, yes, public safety trumps business imperatives while reasonable doubts remain to be addressed.

The bigger issue at hand is that TEV has long been used globally to help determine if businesses are held accountable for the long term expenses generated by their actions. The point is not to penalize business people but to rationalize the playing field.

In other words, if it were recognized that the greater costs of cutting down trees include the eminent possibility of future flooding disasters, and if these costs were passed on to logging companies, then such companies may decide to consider alternatives.

They may decide to pour more resources into developing fast-growing managed bamboo sources. This will make bamboo lumber production more viable than it is at present thereby saving irreplaceable rainforests which protect against flooding.

An analysis utilizing a TEV lens may still reveal some weak areas in the Mining Law. This seems to be the implication of Mr Christian Monsod’s question when he quietly asked about provisions for long term effects.

Mr Monsod pointed out that the Final Rehabilitation Fund only covered capital costs for post-mining operations but there was nothing in the law for long term accountability and maintenance.

Mine operators were required to build structures such as a dam to keep back mining debris or tailings but were not required to maintain these dams. 

In his response, Mr Leo Jasareno of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau acknowledged that mining operations could result in permanent structures such as an open pit with effects which would be felt in perpetuity. Yet, he agreed that there were no provisions for the maintenance of such permanent structures.

In fact, he admitted that “if you look at the regulations this issue is not squarely confronted and so I submit that this is a policy gap”. He then gave the vague assurance that continuing talks could be conducted regarding this matter.

Meanwhile, in his initial reaction to Ms Lopez, Mr Pangilinan described a mine site in Silangan, Surigao del Norte with the phrase, “There’s nothing there.”

Mr Pangilinan may or may not be correct in his assessment that most mining sites are not suitable for tourism development. What is disturbing is the possibility that this industry leader seems unaware that the “nothing” of which he speaks is in fact a living ecosystem with vibrant and vital components and processes.

TEV teaches that while disrupting such an ecosystem may be deemed necessary for certain societal reasons, such a disruption will have consequences and costs. The question then is, who foots the bill? Will it be the mining industry or the general public?

Have the cold computations been rationally carried out?

Cogent as these questions may be, Mr Pangilinan provided no answers. He did note as an aside to Mr Monsod that “… we have a post-rehab plan, we set aside every year an amount of money because one day that mine will close…whether by law or not, we do care about the people… at one point when these guys will have to fend for themselves…”.

Yet even as he explained that his company was providing housing, education, and planting seven million trees, he still skirted the issue that Mr Monsod had actually raised in the first place: do the mining companies’ post rehabilitation plans provide for the capital outlays for measures to restore the total systemic environmental damage which their operations create and more importantly, do they provide for the long term maintenance of these restoration measures?

This is a concrete question which requires concrete, quantifiable and verifiable answers. There is certainly no place here for the intangible, the elusive, and the extremely subjective. 

If the issue were that Mr Pangilinan was ungentlemanly in the way that he had spoken to Ms Lopez then this would be a matter that can be excused given the heat of the moment.

Even if the issue were that Mr Pangilinan was unable to answer Mr Monsod’s pertinent question, which the Mines Bureau Director acknowledged involved a “gap” in the law, it could simply be countered that no one can be expected to be omniscient.

What is more disturbing however is that Mr Pangilinan’s earlier speech, though later eclipsed by subsequent histrionics, is insidiously destructive in its condescension towards the critics of the Mining Law and its proponents. 

What is more disturbing is that Mr Pangilinan’s calmly intoned words may be understood as constituting a cleverly crafted ploy to portray those who dare to interpolate the mining industry as unreasonable and illogical, as given to wild, unproven accusations.

It is this which is most disenfranchising. It is this which is most objectionable.

As a sad postscript, it is even more unfortunate that Ms Regina Lopez played right into the trap.

Evoking the very same type of images of forests and streams that Mr Pangilinan’s speech so delicately used to undermine opponents, speaking with incoherent and incomplete sentences, being careless with generalized accusations and quotations, Ms Lopez unwittingly channeled the kind of unreasonable novices that Mining Law critics are deftly being positioned as.

Ms Lopez should think long and hard about this. She should think about seeking assistance with regard to the way she expresses herself in public, assistance that, in her position and given her resources, it is tragic she does not obtain.

Otherwise she does her causes, her co-workers, and of course, herself, a disservice, detracting from all the good work that she has accomplished.

Or perhaps Ms Regina Lopez may wish to ask Mr Manuel Pangilinan to recommend a good speechwriter – or two. – Rappler.com

 

About the Author: Ino Manalo is a graduate of the University of the Philippines and Columbia University and has won the Palanca Award three times. He is also a regular contributor to the Philippine Daily Inquirer for travel.