The mining controversy isn’t going away with the departure of Gina Lopez from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. President Duterte himself kept reappointing Lopez to the DENR post, giving up only when the Commission on Appointments rejected her.
The President has often said that he can live without the P30 billion in annual revenue from the mining industry. During the turbulent stint of Lopez, he had also openly expressed support for many of her views, including the impact of mining on farming, fisheries and watersheds. The mining industry cannot rule out presidential orders that might sustain some of Lopez’s controversial moves.
Later this month, the interagency Mining Industry Coordinating Council is expected to begin its review of the country’s mining activities, including the orders issued by Lopez to shut down or suspend the operations of several mines. If the President’s actions are any gauge, the industry still faces rough times.
The actions of Lopez during her brief stint in the Cabinet should prompt industry players to streamline their operations and address reasonable concerns raised by environmental advocates. Miners have correctly pointed out that all manmade products on the planet, from eating utensils to mobile phones and houses, use something from the extractive industries. As in other activities that utilize natural resources, such as forestry and fisheries, the operative word should be sustainability.
Obviously, sustainability is a challenge to an industry that extracts raw materials that do not regenerate. The mining industry also suffers from the public’s memories of grievous disasters in the recent past due to unsafe practices and negligence. Those disasters should have taught industry players the advantages of responsible mining. There is such a thing, miners insist, and they stress that mines can be restored to productive use after being shut down, including for farming and forestry.
The industry surely heaved a big sigh of relief following the departure of Lopez, but anti-mining groups aren’t going away. If the industry wants long-term survival, it must take this controversy as a cue to clean up its ranks and show the nation that it is possible to balance the needs of mining with the environment.