P773 billion worth of Philippine natural wealth 'sold out' by Duterte gov't

MANILA, Philippines – Three years of the Duterte presidency have resulted in the sell out of at least P773 billion worth of the Philippines' sovereign mineral, water, wildlife, and marine resources, environmental groups said this week. 

The various groups called on President Rodrigo Duterte and the 18th Congress to prioritize environmental issues ahead of the State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 22.

Costing billions 

At the annual State of Philippine Environment forum at the Ateneo de Manila University on Thursday, July 18, Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) and the Center for Environmental Concerns-Philippines (CEC) cited a study done by the UP Marine Science Institute (MSI) on the destruction of coral reefs in the country. 

It said China had caused P33 billion in damage by destroying coral reefs in the West Philippine Sea annually, or P99 billion from 2016 to 2018. They added that Chinese paramilitary vessels continued to roam in Philippine waters, effectively lessening the control Filipinos have on the country's marine areas.

"If we will summarize Duterte’s 3 years, we will say it’s the wholesale of the national patrimony. It’s not high profile because of his anti-mining rhetoric," Kalikasan PNE national coordinator Leon Dulce told Rappler.

"But a lot of minerals have been sold. More than 90% of our minerals are exported. It caters to foreign market, not domestic needs.... The rehab from Boracay to Manila Bay, it was a ploy to beautify his regime, secondly, as a cover for business interests." 

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources' (DENR) Biodiversity Management Bureau meanwhile said illegal wildlife trade – the smuggling of endangered flora and fauna – in the Philippines was also valued at P50 billion per year or around P150 billion from 2016 to 2018. 

The DENR's Mines and Geosciences Bureau added some P501.4 billion worth of mineral resources was also "virtually exported to other countries by large-scale mining operations" during Duterte's term, according to a press statement. 

CEC research and advocacy program coordinator Lia Alonzo added that should the China-funded Kaliwa Dam and the Chico River pump irrigation projects push through, the country would lose land and water assets valued at P23 billion. 

"The P773 billion does not even account all other environmental costs lost to other projects and future damages it may bring," the CEC and Kalikasan PNE said in their statement. 

Dulce said that should the Philippines reclaim the lost patrimonial assets by rehabilitating the ecosystems, it will take a long time and it will be costly.

"[The government] must demand reparations from countries, corporations and other powerful institutions that have brought this situation before us," Dulce said, listing China's activities in the West Philippine Sea and OceanaGold's mining operations as examples.

The groups added in a statement: "There has been a short supply of the political will that President Rodrigo Duterte promised. The promise of an independent foreign policy has devolved into a policy of subservience to China and other foreign, corporate interests. The promise to close down big mines have resulted in the reversal of 9 out of 13 mines originally up for suspension or closure." 

Inconsistent environmental stance

At a [re-SONA press briefing on the State of Philippine Environment Issues on Friday, July 19, Greenpeace Southeast Asia-Philippines country director Lea Guerrero said Duterte, like presidents before him, has an inconsistent environmental stance.

"For some issues, he has a very strong stance such in waste importation and climate justice that countries should be accountable. But on both counts, it should also be translated that into policies that move," Guerrero added.

"So for example, Duterte's climate justice stand where he is asking for accountability from other countries [for causing environmental damage in our country].... We also need to move to ensure that we have good climate change policies."

Greenpeace said it was hoping that the 18th Congress would adopt policies to help reverse the climate and environmental crises the country faced.

The Philippines is considered a country vulnerable to climate change. – Rappler.com