PHILIPPINE Environment and Natural Resources Secretary, Regina Lopez, made an incredibly bold and rare stand this week against the behemoth of industry that is the mining sector.
Lopez ordered the closure of over half of the Philippines’ mines, and this has set a cat amongst the pigeons of mining magnates. Industry groups have labelled the order “illegal and unfair”, but Lopez has stuck to her guns and refused to err from her position even a little bit.
In a world in which we have a climate change denier in the White House and see the puppet strings of politicians continuously pulled by the powers of big business, I find Lopez’s resolve refreshing and encouraging.
A staunch environmentalist, Lopez has waged war on mining practices in the Philippines since her appointment back in July of last year, vowing to punish any operations that are deemed to be harming the environment. President Rodrigo Duterte, who appointed her due to her record as an environmental activist dedicated to the poor, has largely stuck by her radical decisions.
Her order follows an audit of all mines in the country that was carried out in an attempt to determine if their practices were sustainable and responsible. On receipt of the audit report, Lopez announced the closure of 23 mines and the suspension of five, with only 12 passing the audit.
She has since been met with a barrage of criticism, and not just from mining companies. A plethora of ministers have attacked her, and a quick Google search will show a none-too-pleased response in the press and from business owners.
She has been accused of using an anti-mining audit company; of arrogance; of creating disunity within the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR); and even of being too rich and of not caring about communities as she is heiress to a fortune. On top of all that, she’s been called an environmental waco.
Within the torrent of personal slights that aim to distract from the real issue, there are some legitimate concerns and counter-arguments that are being raised over the ban.
The main and overriding concern is the potential loss of jobs, 1.2 million people stand to be affected by the closures. Despite Lopez’s claims that she will replace the jobs as “a green economy can create more jobs than mining could ever imagine”, this is a fair concern for those families that stand to be affected. But it is not an insurmountable one.
The Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez has also expressed concern over the impact of Lopez’s order on the national economy. The Philippines will likely take a hit for this with mining contributing just 1 percent to the overall economy, and they will likely need to import resources from other areas.
Other counter arguments include that it will not stop the problem of environmental degradation as illegal mining will continue; that plans to rehabilitate the environment and plant trees once the mining is complete should be sufficient to counteract any damage done; and that the implementation of strict rules and regulations is all that is needed to control and monitor the mining companies.
In my opinion, these are not the most robust of arguments and to hear these impassioned pleas, many of which are coming from the mining companies themselves, I have to say that I remain unmoved.
These are economic and financial justifications, and it is a rationale that predominantly benefits the mining industry. There will undoubtedly be consequences to Lopez’s order and ripples will be felt throughout the Philippines but they are ripples that can be managed, can be fixed and can be mitigated.
The arguments against the closures are weak in the face of the absolute behemoth counter argument of climate change and environmental degradation.
Just last month, the Director-General of WWF International, Marco Lambertini, made a stark claim that our planet is at breaking point, a message supported by much of the scientific world.
He claims “the undeniable truth is that we continue to do great damage to the planet and we haven’t learnt how to grow our economy without harming nature.”
For too long we have been exploiting the environment for our financial gain, and it has treated us well, it has bought us the lifestyle we so enjoy today. But surely we all knew the good times had to end somewhere, and that somewhere is now.
“For the first time in Earth’s history, people and businesses are overpowering the planet using resources faster than they can be regenerated. Unsustainable agriculture, fisheries, mining and energy are leading to unprecedented habitat loss and degradation, overexploitation, pollution and climate change,” Lambertini said.
We need to begin to decouple economic development from environmental degradation and understand that the exploitation of one will lead to the unsustainability of the other. As Lambertini puts it, “The equation is a simple one: we will not build a stable, prosperous and equitable future for humanity on a degraded planet.”
It is at this crucial time that the planet needs courageous and responsible leadership. We need a leadership that is willing to stand up to big business and defend what is right rather than what is lucrative.
Lopez seems to understand this. She will no doubt continue to take criticism and opposition for her stand point but her commitment to environmental protection is a noble one. Leaders around the world should take note; our planet is at breaking point and a planet on the edge will eventually turn against us. It is too late to continue to pander to mining companies, we simply haven’t got the time to waste.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of Asian Correspondent