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Gina Lopez’s appointment, a Duterte masterstroke

You’d agree that there’s no exaggeration in saying that Regina Lopez’s appointment as secretary of the environment and natural resources department (DENR) if you had heard of and understood that phenomenon political scientists call “regulatory capture.” This is the bigger conceptual box where the more familiar “corruption” is.

The term “regulatory capture,” though, is somewhat vivid, as it refers to the very common situation in developing countries in which regulatory bodies are “captured” by business entities and even individuals to further their own interests, to the extent of bending the laws these bodies are supposed to implement.

I have written several articles on Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT), partly because its violation of the Constitution’s 40 percent limit on foreign ownership in a public utility firm is the definitive example of regulatory capture.

In that case, it is made much worse as it furthers the interest not just of any magnate, but a foreign one, the Indonesian Anthoni Salim, owner of First Pacific Co. Ltd., which controls PLDT.

In this particular case, the Supreme Court ruled in 2011 and 2012 that PLDT was in violation of the 40 percent limit, and even issued a method for calculating how percentage ownership would be determined. However, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the regulatory body that should have implemented the Court’s decision, ignored the Court’s ruling, and issued its own method of computing foreign ownership, which was diametrically different, and which merely maintained foreign dominance of PLDT. The SEC had been captured by a foreign magnate.

There have been clear cases of regulatory capture of the DENR through the decades by those exploiting our natural resources, and there are major reasons why that government department is so vulnerable.

DENR Secretary Lopez, right after President Duterte offered her the job.
DENR Secretary Lopez, right after President Duterte offered her the job.

I’m sure, dear reader, that you have gone to Tagaytay to cool off. A stretch of the Sta. Rosa-Tagaytay road (which starts from Nuvali) has become a furniture-manufacturer row.

The furniture makers there quite obviously aren’t using recycled wood or those from tree farms. I have often seen huge logs, obviously freshly cut, unloaded by huge trailers to these shops. I had once asked a shop if he could get me narra or mahogany for a table I wanted to make. It just takes a few weeks to order the wood, he says, which comes from Isabela.

And we are supposed to be moving closer to a full logging ban in the country, which is a joke in our hinterlands. An unholy alliance between local politicians, the New People’s Army (NPA), and the local police, has been the force that has facilitated logging, transported from the farthest boondocks in the country to the metropolis itself through trucks and vessels, with police patrols and the coast guard looking the other way. How difficult would it be for a DENR team to investigate each of those shops to find out how they source their lumber?

The illegal logging industry isn’t a mom-and-pop operation, with the transport trucks requiring huge investments. How can we expect lowly DENR offices in far-flung areas, where the forests obviously are, to implement our anti-logging laws? How rarely has the DENR headquarters reported that big-time loggers have been caught?

Worse in mining
It is as worse for the mining industry. We have had two major mining disasters over the last 10 years, so bad these were reported globally as among the worst cases of degradation of an environment by mining firms.

First, the Philex Mining mine spill in Benguet in 2012, when some 20 million metric tons of sediments flowed into water channels from the Philex tailings pond in Itogon after its drainage tunnel was breached. Has Philex repaired the damage it had caused the Itogon rivers? Could it ever?

Second, the Marcopper Mining disaster in 1996 in Marinduque, when a fracture in the drainage tunnel of its pit containing leftover mine tailings discharged toxic mine waste into the Makulapnit-Boac river system and caused flash floods in areas along the river.

What should worry us more is this: These mining companies were supposed to be the most professionally run in our mining industry. If they could be that negligent as to let such disasters occur from their operations, how much more risky, and how much more dangerous to our environment would the operations of the slew of new mining firms – a number of which are reportedly owned by Chinese firms using Filipinos as dummies — be?

There are five factors that make regulating the mining industry so difficult and prone to “capture:”

First, the actual sites are in so distant, godforsaken areas and even jungles, “infested” with bandits and the NPA, that DENR personnel have been known to shirk the risk of undertaking on-site inspections.

Second, it has been the mining firms’ predilection to get political lords to become their patrons and defenders, both on the local level (the mayors and governors) and the national level;

President Rodrigo Duterte himself during the election campaign period accused presidential candidate Manuel Roxas 2nd of coddling a mining company that, he said, has been penalized for overextraction. SR Metals’ part owner, Eric Gutierrez, was said to have been a major contributor to Roxas’ campaign kitty, and had given him free use of all his eight private jets during the campaign. Gutierrez’s associate in SR Metals is the spokesman of the Liberal Party, Caloocan politician Eric Erice. Gutierrez obviously has not only been Roxas’ crony in the elections, but also probably that of the Aquino admnistration. Congressman Manuel Zamora, a well-known political power-broker who financed Joseph Estrada’s run for the presidency, controls Nickel Asia, one of the biggest nickel producers in Asia. Even cabinet members of past administrations have become “consultants” or even secret stockholders of mining firms.

Strong propaganda machinery
Third, the mining industry has developed, over the decades, a strong propaganda machinery for propagating the myth that the Philippine mining industry is essential to the nation’s growth. Part of this machinery could be the Philippine Star, which is controlled by the Indonesian tycoon, Salim, through his top executive, Manuel Pangilinan. The president of the Chamber of Mines is Philip Romualdez, husband of Alexandra Prieto, whose family owns the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Neoliberal champions like the Foundation for Economic Freedom and business consultant Peter Wallace have been noisy champions of the mining industry. A vicious propaganda campaign has, in fact, already been launched against Sec. Lopez.

Fourth, every time stricter mining regulations are about to be put in place, the mining industry raises the bugaboo that foreign investors will be spooked and that their fears could engulf foreign investors in general.

With the mining industry having established their heyday during Marcos’ time, and as a shadowy means for their owners to make money, mining firms were over-represented on the stock exchange. Whenever mining regulations were tightened, the shares of stocks in mining firms (even those that are just shell firms) fell, with the industry’s propagandists threatening a stock market meltdown if the regulations were implemented.

Fifth, as in many of our regulatory bodies, members of their staff are so easily co-opted by the corporations they are supposed to regulate. The staff of the Bureau of Mines and Geosciences have only two options to crawl out of the quagmire of low-paying government jobs: as OFWs, albeit highly-paid geologists, or highly paid technical staff of mining firms.

It is such an absurdity for mining propagandists to be claiming all the time that almost everything we use everyday, from our appliances to cellphones, are made from materials mined out of the earth, and therefore, we should love the industry.

Nobody is disputing that. What we are saying is that, let’s just get our metals and minerals — as we have really been doing — from nations (such as Australia) that have strong regulatory bodies that protect their environment, or even from poorer nations (such as those in Africa) who direly need the foreign exchange from the mining industry – that, at least until we can be confident that the DENR is and can no longer be captured by mining interests

We were among the world’s biggest producers and exporters of gold and nickel in the 1950s and ‘60s. What good did that do to us, or even to the site of most of those mines, Benguet for instance, which is one of the poorest provinces in our country?

Check out where the big mining firms have been operating for a decade now — among them Composela Valley, Surigao del Norte and Sur, Dinagat Islands, Camarines Sur — and you will find the poorest provinces.

It is because of such situations that our mining industry now cries out for a Lopez to head its regulatory body. Lopez’s life story is proof enough that she is a traitor to her class — the ruling elite — and that she definitely can’t be bribed by the mining moguls. I can’t think of anybody else who has the passion and independence from the material world who can free the DENR from capture.

Audit of mining firms
One very good move Lopez announced she would undertake was an audit of all mining firms. Although perhaps what she had in mind was an audit that would include their record in complying with regulations, and maybe of extracting what they were supposed to mine, the audit should also determine if these firms are complying with the constitutional requirement that foreigners’ can own only 40 percent of their capital.

I have heard a lot of rumors that many of the new mining firms are actually owned by Chinese, Taiwanese and Canadian investors.

But apart from such shadowy firms, starting with one of the biggest such operators, Philex Mining, it would turn out not a few mining firms may have been in violation of the country’s constitutional limits. This is, if one applies the landmark decision of the Supreme Court in 2014 (Narra Vs Redmond, G.R. No. 195580, April 21, 2014) that mining firms’ layering schemes merely conceal the actual level of foreign ownership, which exceeds the 40 percent limit.

As has been its habit, the SEC simply ignored the Supreme Court’s ruling and has not issued new rules on how foreign ownership levels should be computed based on the Court’s decision. I’ll discuss this topic on Wednesday.


This Post Has 23 Comments

  1. JRT

    I am looking forward for the beautification of Pasig River. I believe in her capabilities and she can turn around the mining industries into law abiding industries and even covert some of the mining areas to tourism sites.

  2. Salvdor J.

    Let the new DENR secretary do her job first!!!

  3. jr

    would be interesting to know how alleged contributor to the new president’s campaign, Michael Regino, exec of Agata Mining Ventures and San Agustin Mining Services, will be treated by the new DENR chief.

    1. sui sen

      And your proof is? Can we read his name in the SOCE of mayor Duterte???

  4. Rudi Miranda

    Definitely, President Duterte’s masterstroke will give strokes to CEOs and Owners of mining companies.

  5. Rudi Miranda

    Thank you! Brave and courageous is the message, not rare, for Bobbi Tiglao has set the orthodox way to write where it hurts the most like the Mining Industry which has the ‘regulatory capture’ of the DENR or could it be of government as well? For too long these mining companies have been in heaven and giving hell to the ordinary Filipinos. How about a reverse situation by giving em’ hell. Grace&Prayers to Ms. Gina Lopez, President Duterte and Bobbi Tiglao. DU30s support the three for a better Philippines!

  6. sunshine

    No matter what they say, Gina Lopez is a good choice. Crazy, but really good 🙂

  7. Amnata Pundit

    The logging ban is a joke because there is no sawmill ban, and sawmill permits are as easy to get from DENR as a sari-sari store permit. In short, sawmills are the only buyers of logs, period. Which means they are the financiers and chief enabler of illegal logging. For the logging ban to bite, freeze all sawmill permits. Make all mayors and chiefs of police responsible for any sawmill found operating in their areas by suspending that mayor and sending that police chief to Abu Sayaf country, then watch lumber prices go up to reflect the real state of our forests. All lumber must be imported to preserve what left of them. As for mining, we should allow gold mining only provided all the gold mined will be sold exclusively to the government at market prices. Any body found illegally exporting gold should be tried for treason. This is in preparation for the coming world currency/financial debacle where only those with sufficient gold reserves will be left standing. As for the rest of the industry, I agree with you that they can go to hell.

  8. joey

    but DU30 alleged that Skycable bigshot tried to bribe him! so what gives when Gina is a relative of the Skycable bigshots! …on the mining issue, most mines have some political backers, going as far as taking up front money even before the franchise is approved and getting share of stock as well….

  9. Jelly Belly

    Wait, hasn’t the columnist continually railed against other countries getting rich off the Philippines? And now he wants us to source our minerals from Australia, etc., all because of a misconception that mining in any shape or form does not belong here? With our gold, copper, chromate and other minerals among the top ten largest deposits per land area as per the US Department of State, we would just leave all that potential wealth for us sitting idle while we enrich other countries on erroneous assumptions?

    1. Ynan

      Gold and other precious metals do not decrease their value. We can mine them when other countries can no longer export and we are sure that DENR cannot be captured. Importing goods is not always a bad idea.

  10. seb garcia

    Touche , bravo for Duterte and Gina Lopez…………
    Salim following the law ? That is an OXYMORON……this group is born of the
    Suharto Kleptocracy and one of the most vicious and brutal dictatorships —but was let off the hook due to the connections with the highest echelons with the governments of the superpowers.
    They are have been trying to get the same status in the PH since the Ramos time , and including the Judiciary and the media and all important sectors of the economy……specially the most important infrastructure, utilities, communications, internet, etc…….
    These are criminals who are bent on capturing our country as they long for the Suharto days where they were the government and the treasury.
    They are a bit more careful in Indonesia now as there might be a backlash .
    When Suharto was failing ,the house of the old man Soedomo Salim, father of Antoni was torched by the angry and frustrated Indonesians,,,,,,,same with branches of the SALIM bank – Bank Central Asia,.
    That was one of the largest banks in Indonesia …
    Try to imagine the house of the head of our conglomerates like Ayala or SM being torched and their bank branches like BPI or BDO being put on fire due to the anger of the people,,,,,,,I hope our government investigates the Salim Group and return the money of the Indonesians and Filipinos that they have raped and plundered.
    You do not see this group actively operating businesses in developed countries where they have strict ANTI-CORRUPTION LAWS, They are used to corruption and will make our country even more corrupt then what it is today,,,,,,Thanks to SALIM. They belong in jail not in business.
    I remember once , a cabinet member of Cory, telling that what they were doing is just
    capitalism……I told him that is neither Capitalism or Business……That is Robbery and Thievery !

  11. Gina Tan

    Global standards for different mining activities are in-place. If these are ignored, or worse, incessantly violated by the mining firms, then let heads roll in the regulatory agencies. They must have enriched themselves for decades that being fired now would not sink them below the poverty line.

    1. Clark

      The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines is solidly behind Pres. Duterte who said thet only irresponsible mining would be shut down and those that follow the law had nothing to worry about. Ms. Lopez, however has stated on many occasions that she does not believe there is such a thing as responsible mining at all, global standards or no global standards.

  12. Henry Black

    I watched a video of Madame Gina confronting a representative of the mining industry. All she did was bully and shout the other fellow down. I would have more respect for her if she presented facts and figures, but all we get are isolated and vague examples and deceptive analogies.

    1. Clark

      I saw that when I researched on why those UP Mining Engineer students gave her that caldero on her taking office. Ms. Lopez kept shrilly interrupting the mining guy and asked if he ate rice since he was for an industry she claimed destroyed agriculture. The rep countered by asking if she has a (metal) caldero for cooking her rice. Ms. Lopez was so flustered she answered ‘Wala!’ My gosh, I wish she would share her secret of self-cooking rice… Seriously, this is what happens to this expert when faced with cold reasoning.

  13. Spitzbuben

    Mr. Tiglao and Gina ‘Caldero’ Lopez are indeed birds of a feather, using hysterical generalizations to whip up hatred. Hanging on to Philex’s being labelled as the country’s biggest mine spill and comparing it to Marcopper is intellectual dishonesty clearly meant to be inflammatory. Philex was indeed the largest in terms of material spilled, but tests by the same DENR and BFAR have declared the spill non-toxic, unlike Marcopper which truly deserved to be shut down.

  14. dean van drasek

    The question for the country is whether you want to develop a responsible mining industry, at international standards, or just penalize existing firms for past violations. Most environmental degradation comes from small scale miners, who lack the capital and technological resources to operate an environmentally sound business. High standards are not comparable with restrictive foreign ownership levels, as it invites unscrupulous investors and Philippine partners. Mining is a clear way to reduce rural poverty levels in the Philippines. But you need a mandatory minimum wage for miners and enforcement of existing environmental regulations (which are actually of relatively good quality – but a strong Philippine partner can get around them every time). Foreign firms are fer more likely to be environmentally compliant and to carry appropriate levels of insurance in case of a problem. Mining can make a major contribution to the Philippine economy and help combat rural poverty, if foreign firms are allowed to own at least 51% and if the regulatory authorities actually enforce the existing laws without bias.

  15. Nelson C. Robles

    Madam Gina, please be truthful to your vocation for us Filipinos and to our country as well. Kudos.

  16. tagalog ako

    Hehehehe With Gina Lopez at the helm of the DENR, she has to monitor their family-owned Lopez group of companies have are into mining and construction. DENR is not only about mining and logging. It is about environment. The FPIC Writ of Kalikasan case on the oil spill in Makati. The mining operation of the Lopez-owned First Balfour in Batangas Province and the violations of the Energy Development Corporation (EDC) in their geothermal plants.

    Madali na ngayon kumuha ng ECC ang Lopez Group of Companies with Gina Lopez at the helm of the said agency.

    It was a masterstroke of Duterte to appoint GIna Lopez to tell her to check their own companies too.

  17. Rosita H Tan

    I think the President did the right decision of appointing Ms. Gina Lopez as the new
    DENR secretary, she fits very well on the job, from what i read & heard about her she
    has a very sincere concern on our environment and i pray that she will be strong enough to fight all those conglomerates that destroy our environment. Best wishes and good luck to her. Praying for your success!!!

  18. Roberta

    One of your Rare articles that we agree with you. Very true Analysis

    1. Phoebe

      Go Ms. Gina We will pray for you. Make them environmentally and socially responsible. They have so much greed.

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