Congressional franchises for casinos, mining 'reeks of vested interest'

MANILA, Philippines – Opposition legislators questioned the House leadership’s push to require congressional franchises for operators of casinos, public transportation, and mining companies.

At the opening of the 17th Congress’ second regular session on Monday, July 24, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said he wants Congress to add “safeguard mechanism that will make certain that the public’s interest will always be protected.”

“We must require that operators of casinos, public transportation, as well as mining companies, secure a legislative franchise from Congress prior to their operations. This will make certain that their applications are scrutinized deeply. Only the deserving will be allowed to operate,” said the speaker, among President Rodrigo Duterte’s key allies in Congress.

This push did not make sense for representatives belonging to the opposition.

“It will be a conflict of interest for many legislators who are connected to business interests in mining and gambling,” said Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat Jr in a text message to reporters.

“[The] legislative agenda of the Speaker reeks of protecting vested interests and consolidating power over grant of franchises to Congress,” added Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin.

Currently, the 3 industries get their licenses to operate from various government agencies under the executive department. Casino operators get their licenses from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR); public transportation companies from the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB); and mining companies from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Mining has become a hot topic the past year.

Duterte himself has expressed anti-mining sentiments while admitting that he cannot stop it completely because of current laws. Duterte’s first appointee to the post of DENR Secretary, Gina Lopez, was a staunch anti-mining advocate.

Despite Duterte’s support, however, she was rejected by the powerful Commission on Appointments.

Mining reforms

In late July 2017, Duterte said he wants to meet both miners and Lopez to “rearrange” the mining sector, possibly through legislation.

“I'd like to tell you frankly, we will come up with new legislation because Bebot Alvarez, the new Speaker, hates mining, and he comes from a mining town,” said the President then.

The proposal to require congressional franchises on mining companies was not discussed by Duterte then.

“Congress dipping its hands on supposed to be technical and financial documents would be a big mess. What Congress must do is to study and amend the mining law,” said Caloocan Representative Edgar Erice.

The congressman, who himself has a stake in a mining company, proposed “separating” mining from the DENR and instead handing it over “to the able hands of experts in the field of mining and environment, professionals educated and well experienced civil servants.”

“Putting congress in charge of the mining franchises will aggravate this troubled industry. If we dissect the problem of mining most of them will end up at the doorstep of local politics,” added Erice.

At the same time, Alvarez’ other priority legislation, particularly those that would pave the way for same-sex unions and the dissolution of marriage, earned tentative praises.

“Bold, clear and progressive on gender rights issues. I hope he follows through with clear directives to his leaders to push the bills he mentioned,” said Baguilat.

“He should put priority to the anti-discrimination bill as pushed by the LGBT community rather than same sex marriage as the former gained near unanimous support in the first regular session,” said Villarin. – Rappler.com