Mining E.O. not perfect, but very good

Dean Tony La Viu00f1a

Executive Order No. 79 lays down very clearly the roadmap on mining sector reforms, including guidelines on environmental protection and responsible mining. The “Mining EO,” as it has come to be known, is a good and progressive issuance for which President Aquino merits congratulations.

For us from the Ateneo School of Government which recently published a book on the future of mining in the Philippines, the Aquino mining policy, as illustrated by the EO, is not perfect, but good. In fact it is very good.

We outline below our reasons why we find the EO a definitive step in the right direction for the mineral industry, as it changes paradigms for the better:

Atty. Alaya de LeonThis provision indicates that the President means business – invoking the said constitutional provision on “a more equitable distribution of opportunities, income, and wealth; a sustained increase in the amount of goods and services produced by the nation for the benefit of the people; an expanding productivity as the key to raising the quality of life for all, especially the underprivileged; and that in the pursuit of these goals, all sectors of the economy and all regions of the country shall be given optimum opportunity to develop.”

These all point to a clear intent to ensure that the Philippine mineral industry serves all citizens and not just the interests of a few, that it benefits the majority and raises the quality of life for all.

'Revolutionary provisions'

In addition, the EO contains four other revolutionary provisions related to the management of mineral agreements and revenues derived therefrom:

These provisions provide a paradigm shift in how the country’s mineral reserves and resources are treated and exploited, which over the years seemed typified as a “come one, come all” system for investors. The Mining EO sets initial steps for exercising more stringent controls on the utilization of mineral resources, the grant of rights for their utilization, and the flow of revenues from such.

Likewise, we praise the President for issuing specific directives to his Cabinet to immediately implement the EO. We particularly laud the directive to the DENR to “Desist from processing mining applications in Palawan and enhance the strict implementation and periodic review of the Strategic Environmental Plan for Palawan with the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development.”

Directives to complete cultural mapping of indigenous peoples’ areas and address their concerns and recognition of their rights, and to address the overlapping tasks and functions of departments involved in mining, are also crucial points for implementation and respond to some of the most basic systemic weaknesses of governing the mineral industry.

Some concerns

While we congratulate the President on an EO that departs from “business as usual” practices in the mineral industry, we also express concern over Section 12 on the “consistency” of local ordinances with the Constitution and national laws.

Admittedly, it is an improvement from an earlier iteration of the EO which referred to the “primacy” of national over local legislation. However, a more appropriate term would have been “harmonization” between the 2, because such assumes that local government units (LGUs) act in good faith and generally exercise their power in accordance with national laws.

Still, in spite of its language, Section 12 can be interpreted as allowing LGUs to impose restrictions on mineral activities within their jurisdiction – including mining bans – if they are able to demonstrate that such legislation is reasonable within the environmental, social, and economic circumstances surrounding a proposed project, and as long as this is supported by risk assessments and evidence-based studies, and appropriate consideration of the precautionary principle.

With EO 79, a new mining policy has been effectively put into place by a President who clearly means business. The challenge now, as always whenever our country enacts or adopts progressive legislation and policies, is implementation.

With the directives the President issued along side his EO, he is clearly also paying attention to what happens now in the field. For that reason, we are hopeful.

Perhaps, finally, the “resource curse,” the truism that extractive industries like mining cause only poverty and conflict, will be disproven in our country, and our mineral wealth will become as it should be – a bounty and blessing for our people.

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