A Valentine’s Day massacre

SANTA Banana, it was a Valentine’s Day massacre!

I refer to the order of Secretary Gina Lopez of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The secretary belongs to the Lopez clan which owns one of the two largest radio-television networks of the country.

Lopez canceled 75 mining contracts, stepping up her anti-mining advocacy. She had earlier ordered the closure of 23 mining firms, some of them a century old, and the suspension of three others for alleged violation of environmental laws.

Ironically, Lopez called her latest order a “gift of love” to the Filipino people. She does not have any regard for the sanctity of contracts and for due process. She puts jobs in limbo and threatens the livelihood of some 2.1-million Filipinos.

But, my gulay, would she care? I don’t think so—she is already rich.

The 75 mining contracts—known as Mineral Production Sharing Agreement or MPSAs —between the mining industry and government are all allegedly in watershed zones, with many still in the exploration stage.

Now, pray, tell me, how could mining activity that is still in the exploration stage violate the environment?

But, Lopez, arrogant as she is—she does not care of her appointment is confirmed or rejected—maintains her anti-mining advocacy. She says: “You kill watershed, you kill life,” after she flew over mines, and supposedly saw siltation along rivers and coastal areas where the mines were located.

My gulay, she should be told that during heavy rain, soil is eroded from the mountains. This makes rivers muddy and coastal areas reddish. Again, Lopez could not care less. If she had her way, she says, there would be no mining at all in Southeast Asia.

I agree with what the Chamber of Mines is saying: The unilateral action of Lopez is no longer a question of whether a handful of companies violated environmental laws. It is whether the government still upholds the sanctity of contracts.

The issue is moral, social and legal. It is an issue of due process, justice and fairness that should apply to all.

When one enters into a contract, there are always provisions for due process. The sanctity of contracts is upheld —cancellation is an option only on specific grounds.

Did Lopez do it upon notice to contracting parties? Did Lopez give the mining companies an opportunity to correct their alleged violations? If the answer is a no, then the affected mining firms have legal ground to contest the cancellation.

No wonder the American Chamber of Commerce called the order of Lopez irresponsible. “We do not understand why these permits and contracts—which are only to explore but not to produce—are harming watershed? Responsible government agencies reviewed the permits, and there are dispute resolution provisions that are followed,” John Forbes, senior adviser of the American Chamber said.

Again, I ask, would the former Ananda Marga Buddhist cult follower care? I guess she won’t, because she can live without being DENR secretary.

The biggest Filipino chamber, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, echoed the sentiments of the American Chamber. I suppose other foreign investors are alarmed over what’s happening in the Philippines.

There’s now an uproar over the confirmation of Lopez as DENR secretary. But, again, she doesn’t care whether she’s rejected or confirmed. She is confident that President Duterte would reappoint her.

But that is not the point. It’s the future of the national economy at stake—and all because of the arrogance of one single member of the Cabinet. She is now even causing division among her colleagues. Most of the secretaries, especially Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, knows that Lopez’s actions are jeopardizing the President’s 10-point national agenda for economic sustainability. How can one member of the Cabinet put at risk 2.1-million jobs, local government revenue, and above all, gross domestic product?

From the start, I said the appointment of Lopez to the DENR was a big mistake. She really is out to kill the mining industry.

Mining firms have been calling for the full disclosure of the DENR’s audit reports. Lopez, in her arrogance, would not. The reports would show her bias and utter contempt for the industry.

The fact that it was an audit report from anti-mining advocates, and above all, by her consultant who was already dismissed from public service for graft and corruption, makes things worse.

Lopez, in defiance, still hired this person as her consultant.

What Lopez should explain is that the government team that reviewed her audit report recommended only suspension and fines of the concerned 23 mines and suspension of five more. But she canceled the permits of 23 firms and suspended five more.

And then she said, “it’s my prerogative.”

* * *

There was a time when people got news only from the printed word, from newspapers, and radio. Then came television, an impact medium, which carried the news as they happened. But, the printed words survived it since people would rather read the news from the newspapers.

Then, with the advancement of information technology came social media and digital news and with a finger on the button, you can even access international news. Facebook and other social media platforms followed.

With all these came bullying and, worse, fake news, making people wonder whether or not news is really what’s happening.

I say that the printed medium—the newspapers—are here to stay, and no amount of information technology can replace it.

The people, those who read newspapers, can always rely on the printed word, the newspapers as the source of good and real news. Governments can always rely on the printed word as a reference and for guidance, since we, in the newspapers have imbibed the journalist’s oath to tell the people the truth and nothing but the truth.

We risk being charged with libel, but we take that risk. Can social media say that for themselves? No.

* * *

I asked businessman Bobby Ongpin why he was putting up a state-of-the-art rehabilitation center for victims of illegal drugs, he told me that he believed in President Duterte’s war on illegal drugs, and there’s need to build more rehab centers.

Sadly, what appeared in my column yesterday was the exact opposite of what he said: “I also believe in President Duterte’s war on illegal drugs, and there’s NO need for rehab centers.”

It’s a glaring error. Sorry for that.

Topics: Emil Jurado , A Valentine’s Day massacre , Secretary Gina Lopez , Department of Environment and Natural Resources , mining industry , news , social media , Bobby Ongpin
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