A staunch environmentalist, environment secretary Gina Lopez has brought the mining sector to its knees. The business mining community is pursuing legal remedies to counter Gina’s decisions. Whose interests will triumph eventually?
Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) secretary Gina Lopez has single-handedly paralysed the mining industry. She ordered the closure of 23 mining firms and suspended five others. She had also scrapped 75 mine contracts because it threatened watersheds.
In a news briefing, she said, “You kill watersheds, you kill life.” Her decision to nullify the mining agreements led to Philippine mining and oil stocks to lose 54% of their market value. She warned that in 2030, the country could suffer from a water shortage.
President Duterte supports Gina Lopez but calls for due process
Philippine President Duterte backed Gina Lopez especially after he had seen the environmental destruction created by mining in Surigao City. However, after much uproar from the mining business group, Duterte’s government put on hold her closure and suspension orders to give way to due process. This suspension meant mining firms would have the opportunity to respond or dispute the results of the mining audit that justified their closure or suspension.
Miners seek to remove her from the position
The mining industry sought legal remedies to address their plight. They filed an opposition to her confirmation by the Commission on Appointments as Environment Secretary for showing bias and antagonism against large-scale mining.
Economic impact of Mining Industry
The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) estimated that Lopez’s closure order would affect more than 1.2 million Filipinos and threatened US$22 billion worth of investments. The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry president George Barcelon believed that responsible mining plays a key role in the country’s economic development.
The mining industry contributes less than one percent to Philippine GDP and will unlikely derail its growth story. A BMI research note has estimated that the Philippine nickel industry will not suffer a significant decrease in overall output this year because the mine closures concern mainly the smaller players. The Philippines is the world’s largest supplier of nickel ore.
Business community insists consistency with due process critical for investments
However, if the government does not consistently observe due process and they continue to disrespect contracts, this operation could turn off potential investments in the country. John D. Forbes, the senior advisor to the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, said, “Cancellation without due process is as irresponsible as operating a mine without following environmental rules and laws.”
What lies ahead for Gina Lopez
Gina Lopez is a fiery environmentalist. She refuses to compromise on her principles even if it means the quick end to her political career. She is on a mission. Give her a maximum of two years, and she will prove to her critics that a green economy will create more jobs than mining. She will be using the sustainable integrated area development (SIAD) approach to creating “mini-economic zones” that will create jobs and livelihood activities to those affected by the mining closures.
Similar to Duterte’s war on drugs, she has embarked on a crusade against mining. It will be interesting to observe how her political career will progress given the current situation. Will her appointment get blocked eventually or will Duterte replace her to find someone who can balance various stakeholder interests? Or will she suddenly tone down her anti-mining stance?
COMP president Benjamin Philip Romualdez believes Gina Lopez is the wrong person for the job. He said, “The position of the DENR is complicated. It must be run by someone who has the technical capacity and ability to balance interests. The position of the DENR is not just the position of the environment, but the position of natural resources.”