Friday, 6 July 2012

Editorial - Villafuerte and Padilla on same wavelenght

APPARENTLY, Jose Panganiban Mayor Ricarte Padilla has found a friend in CamSur Governor LRay Villafuerte.

Although the two local officials have no direct consultation or communication between them, they both agree that the local government units (LGUs) should be consulted by the national government agencies such as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Mining and Geogscience Bureau and the Environment Management Bureau (EMB) regarding:

 1) The regulation and control of any mining activities within their respective jurisdiction;
 2) Equitable sharing of revenues; and
 3) The assurance on the environment viability of mining operations.

Villafuerte, who is the vice-president of the League of Provinces of the Philippines, was reacting to a new Executive Order (EO) awaiting President Noynoy Aquino’s signature, which ignored the municipal governments when it mandated the creation of a provincial mining regulatory board (PMRB) solely presided by the provincial government.

In short, the local government unit (LGU), which hosts a mining resource has no seat in the board and has no role in regulating and overseeing mining operations and gets no share in the mining revenues from operations within its jurisdiction.

In a statement that appeared recently in the regional newspaper Bicol Mail, Villafuerte said he “only wants assurance that the environment would be protected by the mining operations”.

The three concerns raised by the CamSur governor sit squarely with that of Padilla’s.

As of now, there are many illegal gold mining operations going on in the municipality of Jose Panganiban.

A number of them have the blessings of mining rights claimants who deliberately sat on their “property” in violation of the mandate of their mining claims -- which is to develop them -- and who, instead, allowed small-time gold operators-financiers to extract the wealth from their mining claims on royalty basis.

But since the JP-LGU has no power to check or stop their activities, it can only watch helplessly the on-going degradation of the environment within the mining sites.

And the permit holders are answerable only to the one who issued them – the provincial government, and in this case the office of CamNorte gov Edgardo A Tallado.

It is well known all over CamNorte that the rich gold mining districts in Jose Panganiban, Labo, Sta Elena and Paracale have remained a rich milking cow for the powers-that-be in province.

A case in point is the recent sacking of CamNorte Senior Supt Joselito Esquivel as head of the CamNorte Police Provincial Office (PPO) because he “failed to enforce a moratorium on small-scale mining in the province” that Interior and Local Government Sec Jesse Robredo has ordered.

The moratorium was prompted by a series of accidents in the gold mining districts in Mindanao, in Paracale and elsewhere where illegal operations are going on.
We can easily speculate on why Esquivel ignored the DILG order.

The sacked police officer was replaced by Police Supt Jose L Capinpin as PPO officer-in-charge.

And it was not surprising to read in the news that the provincial governor Edgar A Tallado has “lamented” Esquivel’s sacking, saying that “it’s a political suicide” to stop small-scale mining in the province, which involves some 10,000 families who depend their livelihood on it.

We can interpret it this way: the illegal operators are voters and that their votes are precious, especially in the coming local elections. But then, in order to allow them to operate in violation of the DILG moratorium, there should be a trade-off.

And it is here where the million peso question pops. Agreeing, both parties should be happy.

The DILG moratorium order runs counter to Tallado’s discretion to issue out mining permits whenever he pleases and who would surely frown on Villafuerte’s stand to give the municipal governments – in particular the JP-LGU -- a say in the regulation and control of such extractive activities.

Padilla and Tallado are fiercely on the opposing sides of the political fence in CamNorte.

Right now, LGUs, in particular the government of Jose Panganiban, can only endorse to the DENR, EMB and MGB a mining operators’ request for ECC, or the so-called Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC).

This document certifies that the prospective miner has complied with all the requirement set by the DENR on the aspect of environment based on the independent evaluation or assessment carried out by the LGU on the upcoming mining operations.

The JP-LGU can’t afford to be remiss on its job – any screw up in the miner’s operations after getting an ECC would surely affect the community and its environment. It would also be a big slap in the face of the local chief executive.

Villafuerte, in agreement with Padilla’s stance of the LGUs supervisory power, has pitched that mining operations should be guided and regulated so that the efforts of the LGUs to preserve the environment will be safeguarded.

 “The local government units would have a say in regulating them and local government units should have a fair share of the revenues that are generated by the government on such operations and the population would derive substantial benefits,” Villafuerte said.

As it is, Villafuerte has a particular bias towards the protection of the environment.

He has been planting trees across his province, earning him two world records in the Guinness Book of World Records. The recent one was achieved by planting 1,009,019 mangove trees in one hour along the coast of Ragay Gulf and the first world record was for planting 64,000 trees in only 15 minutes, which eclipsed India’s record of 50,033 trees planted in  one hour.

Padilla, on his own, has initiated tree-planting in the watersheds around two dams which supply water to the community and has continued to chase illegal loggers operating in the municipality.

As the local chief executive, he has been appalled by the gradual degradation of waters of Mambulao Bay caused by indiscriminate mining activities in the municipality’s gold district.

In fact, small-scale miners are operating right in the shallow water of the bay just close to the town’s shoreline, polluting the water with silt and mud and making it brownish.

But Padilla can’t do anything pro-active about this. All he can do is inform the concerned national agencies about the infraction in his very own territory. So far, nothing has been done about it.

The good news is that, being the No. 2 honcho in the provincial governors’ club, Villafuerte wields awesome powers and influence to sway all like-minded governors from the north down to the south to rally behind the municipal governments’ bid to have a say in the running of the country’s mining industry, especially so if such operation is being carried out right in the own backyard.
Villafuerte said that his position for responsible mining is shared by majority of the governors.

President Aquino, therefore, should not play deaf-and-dumb to the pleas of mineral resource hosts – the municipalities and their respective government – to play a vital role in developing their mineral wealth, instead of just being fence-sitters and on-lookers to whatever development unfolding right before them.

--AP Hernandez

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