Investors who play by the rules, do not destroy the environment, and put the common good alongside their business interest have no reason to worry about investing in the Philippine mining industry, a broad coalition of environmentalist groups said yesterday.
Reacting to the claim by an official of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry that the strong regulatory stance of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is “sending the wrong signals” to investors, the Green Thumb Coalition said only mining companies who have no regard for the environment and people’s welfare will not find it worth investing in a country that takes care of its ecological balance and its people.
"The implementation of regulations are not the problem in this issue, but rather these regulations have long been in place precisely in response to the destruction of our country's environment and the livelihood of the people," said Gerry Arances of the Center for Energy, Ecology and Development (CEED), one of the conveners of the GTC.
"A strong and strict execution of prevailing laws will only strike fear among those corporations which aim to cut costs by disregarding the welfare of affected communities and the country as a whole," he added. "If investors make sure that the companies they fund follow the rules, they have nothing to be afraid of. Rather, they should be glad that the playing field is being changed for the benefit of better investment prospects which do not sacrifice sustainability and rights for the sake of profit."
The GTC said mining has not been a significant contributor to economic development and jobs generation, contributing less than one percent to employment—and mostly contractual, seasonal, non-permanent jobs.
On the other hand, the local mining industry basically exports raw ore to fuel the industrial needs of developed countries. “There is little national economic benefit from investments in mining, yet the costs to environment, and the hazards they pose are tremendous,” said Tina Pimentel of Bantay Kita, a member NGO of the Green Thumb Coalition.
The GTC said responsible businessmen and investors should, in fact, support the DENR in its effort to make mining companies obey the rules because, in the end, it is the image of the business community, and that of the good and responsible businessmen that are destroyed.
Said the GTC: “Assuming without granting that the country’s image to overseas investors is ‘destroyed’ as alleged by Jose Leviste, co-chairman of the PCCI committee on mining, we’d rather have our image than our environment destroyed by irresponsible mining investors. It would be far easier to repair our image than our environment. It is also less costly.”
“What is a good public image for if it leaves us with a destroyed environment that endangers the lives, health and food security of our people?” Leonora Lava of Greenpeace Philippines, a GTC member organization as well, added.
Siquijor Representative Ramon “Rav” Rocamora called for the early deliberation and passage of House Bill No. 4116 or the Philippine Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (PH-EITI) Law which will mandate companies involved in mining, oil, gas and coal industries to undergo regular auditing and review. According to Rocamora the law will allow the public to see the full picture on how mining resources are used and whether mining activities are benefitting the local communities, and its impact.
“The EITI already exists as a voluntary mechanism for mining firms to take part in. What we want to do is to make it mandatory to ensure that the public is informed of the effects of mining with accurate data,” according to Rocamora.
“With this kind of mechanism, we can immediately avert any potential deleterious effect that a mining operation will have on the environment and the local community,” he added.
Under the law, a multi-stakeholder group composed of representatives from government agencies (including one each from both Houses of Congress), 5 representatives from the extractive industries, 5 representatives from the Civil Society Organizations, and one representative from the Indigenous People’s sector will be in charge of the PH-EITI. There will be regional and provincial formation of the EITI where mining companies operate.
“As much as possible, we want a balanced and well represented body to lead this initiative. This is to prevent any possible conflict of interest and ensure a broad support for this undertaking,” Rocamora stressed.
The PH-EITI Law also requires an annual report which will cover the revenue generated from the extractive industries such as payment to the national government and local government units. It will also include public disclosure of all concessions, contracts, and agreements and joint ventures entered into by the government. It will also include a CSO assessment of the EITI process itself.
“If enacted, this will help current efforts by the government led by the DENR in monitoring mining companies to ensure that they do not harm the environment and that communities really benefit from their operations. Moreover, it will lead to greater citizen’s participation and involvement in government mining policy because they will have a complete picture of the how a particular company operates,” Rocamora added.
As part of its commitment to the Publish What You Pay (PWYP) international Data Extractors Program, Bantay Kita (BK) has soft launched its "Demanding for Action, Transparency, and Accountability (DATA) Portal" in Cebu City last July 13 during the Open Government Partnership CSO participation capacity building.
The DATA Portal was developed by BK's research and communications officer drawing from his background in open data and transparency initiatives. The portal, as he describes it, is aimed at becoming a one-stop shop for data on mining, oil and gas industries for civil society organizations in the Philippines.
The portal currently hosts information on mining tenements, data visualizations on minerals extracted per province and also project level data which were sourced from Philippine Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (PH-EITI) reports. More data will be added as soon as they are cleaned and made available.
To generate demand for the portal, BK has been conducting open data workshops around the Philippines to gather feedback using the "data user story template" which is a simple tool used to gauge data needs of BK's CSO members. The tools asks workshop participants what advocacy they are working on; who their decision maker or audience is; and what data they would need to arrive at the outcome they are working on. This ensures that data in the portal is not just specific to communities but also relevant to their respective advocacies and needs as a community.
The portal and its approach was recently presented in Madrid, Spain during the International Open Data Conference.
For more info about the DATA Portal, go to: www.data.bantaykita.ph or read this blog about the portal.
An environmental summit dubbed as "People's Summit for the Environment" was organized by the Green Thumb Coalition (GTC), of which Bantay Kita is a part of, last October 11, 2016 at the College of Saint Benilde.
The said forum was aimed for its attendees to understand the current state of the country’s environment; assess government efforts geared towards its protection; and unite around immediate and strategic calls, demands and actions.
The event was attended by National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) Secretary Ernesto Pernia and Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Regina Paz Lopez, and other GTC members.
DENR Secretary Lopez presented the agency's plan on shifting from a regulatory agency to a development arm of government. She shared to the audience that they are now looking at areas for development while ensuring community engagement from planning stage to implementation and also injecting development and entrepreneurial skills. She also shared that DENR will be providing funds for the implementation of these projects.
DENR has established a special arm within the department specifically to ensure collaboration between the department and civil society organizations. This is to provide a platform for engagement in implementing development projects from start to end.
A public forum on the Freedom of Information (FOI) Executive Order (EO) of the Duterte Administration was held last October 7 in the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement building attended by FOI advocates.
The event served as an avenue for FOI advocates to share with government agency executives their assessment of what has been done on FOI in the first 100 days of the new administration and what balance of work remains.
Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Regina Lopez attended the initiative reiterating the department's support to the FOI. She mentioned that the DENR has always been conscious of the need to share information to stakeholders. She said that DENR will disclose as much information as allowed as long as it does not infringe on threats to privacy and national security.
The DENR commits to have the manual ready by the end of the year.
Bantay Kita (BK) is a member of the Right to Know Right Now Coalition, a coalition of 160 member organizations advocating for freedom of information in the Philippines. BK is the coalition's lead organization for DENR.