FINANCE Secretary Carlos Dominguez III on Tuesday told critics to work to get mining laws repealed instead of attacking those in the government who believe it is part of their duty as civil servants to uphold the laws of the land.
Dominguez made the statement in response to criticism hurled against him by anti-mining activist and rejected Environment secretary Regina Lopez and her allies.
“My only comment is if certain quarters think the law is unfair, they should work to change the law, as violation of the laws is not an option for any government official or any good citizen for that matter,” Dominguez said in a statement Tuesday.
Finance Undersecretary Bayani Agabin, who has also been attacked by Lopez, added: “We are a government of laws, not men. The Mining Act sets the terms and conditions under which mining should be conducted, as well as the conditions for its suspension or cancellation. It is the duty of government officials to implement the law.”
Dominguez said last week in a mining forum that suspension of mining operations in the country would “never” happen again without due process as a strong governance framework was what the industry needed, not an arbitrary ban.
“Never again will suspension be meted out on unseen audits... and without legal basis. The solution is to improve governance to ensure sustainability of the environment...,” Dominguez told industry stakeholders during the opening ceremony of the Philippine Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative national conference held at the Manila Hotel.
Until she was given the boot by the Commission on Appointment, Lopez refused to release the audit results and the actual documents on which she based her decision to close 23 mining companies and suspend five others in Febraury.
Dominguez assured stakeholders in the extractive industries that the Duterte administration “will be firm but fair” in exercising strong governance while practicing transparency in all its processes and abiding by global best practices in ensuring sustainable development.
“The solution is not to arbitrarily ban extractive industries, whatever contractual obligations government has with investors,” Dominguez said. “The solution is to improve governance so that we get the best of both worlds: ensuring the sustainability of our environment on one hand and creating wealth for our people from our natural endowments on the other.”
The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, meanwhile, welcomed the recent statements made by Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu in favor of a balanced approach to environmental protection and responsible mining, as well as Dominguez’s statement that promotes transparency and good governance as a solution to the many issues hounding the mining industry.
Upon his appointment as DENR Secretary, Cimatu has said that “there are countries where mining contributes a lot to the economy and environmentalists are not screaming. I think it can be done.”
But the environmental group Alyansa Tigil Mina (Alliance to Stop Mining) said the mining audit—the results of which have never been released-- had a legal basis, and that Lopez had followed due process in serving “social justice” witht he mine closures.
“This is how we should hold the mining industry and the government accountable. Our alliance argues that former DENR Secretary Lopez was actually enforcing environmental laws and policies when she decided to close these mines. The results of the audit and the subsequent technical review showed that standards were not met and laws were violated, so it should come no surprise that violators will be penalized,” the group said.
“What may have stunned Secretary Dominguez was the commitment and political will of Lopez to impose the penalties and prioritize the welfare of the rural poor rather than pander to the interest of miners and their political backers,” the group added.