'Corruption, gov't inefficiency' to blame for environmental destruction
MANILA, Philippines – Environment Secretary Gina Lopez blamed corruption and government inefficiency for the destruction caused by mining operations in some communities in the country.
During a Rappler Talk interview on Monday, February 6, Lopez talked about one abandoned mining site where the mercury level already exceeded the allowable level. She said the mine is already a "hazard zone," when it could've been an "ecotourism paradise."
Asked why this was allowed to happen, she was quick to point out the problem.
"It's the inefficiency of government, and it's the corruption. I mean, all regulatory agencies, especially here in the Philippines, are seedbeds of corruption because you sell the permits, you sell the clearance, you look the other way just so that they can continue to do what they do, and that's the prime reason. It's corruption, it's inefficiency; that's why it happened," she explained.
On February 2, she announced that only 12 mining firms passed the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) audit.
The DENR deferred its decision on one mining firm, ordered 23 firms closed, and suspended 5 others. (READ: Lopez: Mining audit team wanted fines, I chose closures)
Lopez, who has repeatedly insisted that she's not against the mining industry, said she has no problem with people making money – she is, after all, from a business family. It is a different story, however, when that business has a negative impact on the people.
"I do have a problem when the operations of that business kills water, adversely affects life, and keeps our people poor," she said.
And in a society where there are "different kinds of forces," she noted that it is the government's responsibility to "play the middle path."
"The middle path means you look at this, and then you make decisions, but if you're co-opted by big business, who's going to take care of the poor? Is there any way that the poor, the fishermen, and the farmers can ever stand...against political interest and big business? They'll eat them up alive," she said.
Lopez added, "And if the government shirks in this responsibility, what's going to happen to the poor if we don't do our job, if we anchor and make our decisions because we're bought by big business?"
The sad reality, according to Lopez, is that "mining money and big business fund political campaigns."
"And so what happens? There are congressmen and senators and whoever who are obligated to mining interest and big business, and it's not right. In fact, there are some who even do the mining themselves. There should be some line," she explained.
Lopez's move to close over half of the large-scale mines in the country has met criticism from the mining industry and even a senior Cabinet member, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, but the environment chief is confident that a majority of Filipinos are on her side.
"My solace comes from the fact that there may be politicians, there may be business interests, but you know, if you look in social media, 99% is in my favor," she said. (READ: Confusion over the mining list: How did DENR decide on closure?)
Lopez added: "And if these politicians want to get elected again, then they should consider that actually, the percentage and the majority of the Filipino people don't want destruction of the environment, and they do also feel that we shouldn't give in to big business." – Rappler.com