MANILA, Philippines – An official of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) said that the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) is neither pro-mining nor anti-mining.
DILG Assistant Secretary Epimaco Densing III made the statement in a media interview after the MICC meeting on Tuesday, March 28.
"We all agree that this is all about social justice for our people….If the mining activity in a specific area, local government will promote social justice, then so be it. If a mining activity does not promote social justice and a lot of our people will continue to live in poverty, then we will close the mine, we will recommend for the closure," Densing said.
He added, "At the end of the day, it's an issue of equitable distribution of wealth: we give what is due to the mining companies, but we have to make sure that the people in all mining activities and areas in the country are uplifted from their poverty."
Densing attended the MICC meeting on Tuesday, together with Environment Secretary Gina Lopez, Finance Undersecretary Bayani Agabin, Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (ULAP) vice chair and Isabela Vice Governor Antonio Albano, and other members of the multi-stakeholder council.
The MICC will review all existing mining operations in the country, starting with the 28 mining operations that were ordered closed or suspended by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
The review, which will cover technical, legal, social, environmental, and economic aspects of the operations, is expected to be finished in 3 months.
Lopez initially questioned the MICC review, even calling it a usurpation of DENR's mandate. But members of the MICC clarified on Tuesday that what will happen is a review of mining operations, and not a review of DENR's closure and suspension orders.
Albano, meanwhile, insisted that local government must be "truly consulted" by the DENR because "the opening and closure of mines really affect the provinces."
"Certain closures have to be consulted because people's lives are affected, and Secretary Gina knows this, and that's why she has a contingency plan," the ULAP vice chair said on Tuesday.
"If we are closely coordinated with the local government, the governor or mayor or barangay captain would have the knowledge to explain to these people [who] were so afraid of losing their jobs. Some of them are actually crying out, some of them are already trying to see where their skills can be now tapped for something else, because they're really worried about their lives, their children's lives."
Albano even cited the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 and how the company was made to clean up after the spill.
"Ang worry kasi namin diyan, sinarado mo 'yung mine, sinong mag-clean up niyan? Gobyerno? E di taxpayers' money na naman (Our worry there is, you closed down the mine, who will clean up there? Government? Then we'll have to use taxpayers' money again)?" he told Lopez.
He added: "Sana buhayin muna natin 'yung kumpanya, 'wag silang mag-operate.... Sabihin, 'Linisin 'nyo muna 'yan. Kayo magbayad ng panglinis diyan.'"
(I hope we can open the mines, they don't have to operate….Tell them, "Clean that up first. You pay for what's needed to clean that up.")
Environment Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Maria Paz Luna explained that the rehabilitation fund is for the cleaning up of the mine sites, but Albano said the fund is "not enough."
"When there is a regulatory decision to be made, it's the DENR accountable for it. Consultation with mayors and governors would be on how to implement the decision," Luna explained further.
During a March 14 meeting with the Commission on Appointments, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said ULAP and other national government agencies were not consulted by the DENR regarding the closure and suspension orders.
Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.