LETTERS FROM DAVAO
By Jun Ledesma
Stonewalled in the din and rankle whipped by the rejection of the appointment of Gina Lopez as Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) are issues which were not brought to the fore. It is vital as it defines what DENR will be under Gina had she won the nod of the Commission of Appointment (CA).
Sad that the heated exchanges focused solely on the incendiary issues of conflict of interest of members of the CA but even that, had it been impartially scrutinized, would reveal whose interest was really at work and why.
We have heard it all. The passionate repartee of Gina including her swan song "I believe I can fly".
In the faraway nook in Mindanao, I listened to the speeches and watched the unfolding drama following the verdict of the CA. I cringed each time mouths wag in an outburst of emotion and condemnation why Gina was rejected. The social media was up in smoke. Gina is a personification of an environment guardian and a nominee of President Rodrigo Duterte so why reject her as DENR Secretary?
Amidst the furor I had wanted to raise some issues of concern but, apprehensive I will sound irrelevant to the popular outcry, I hedged. In the first place President Duterte had been rooting for her. Now that the dusts had settled and the noise is but a whimper allow me to bring these matters out.
I have been receiving some disturbing information shortly before and after the CA made their final deliberation on the fate of Gina. Please check these out:
Is it true that then Secretary Gina Lopez granted authority to San Roque Metals Inc. (SRMI) to continue with their mining operations in Tubay, Agusan del Norte? The mining firm, which is classified as small scale obviously to skirt some mining laws and regulations, was facing a number of cases for enumerable violations and even caught the ire of candidate Rodrigo Duterte. Being small scale it can only mine not more than 50 tons of ore monthly. The area being located in an ancestral domain, SMRI is supposed to give the Indigenous Peoples their share. Eric Gutierrez, the owner and his partner Congressman Egay Erice are all familiar names. It is also known that they provide the jets needed by Liberal Party Presidential bet Mar Roxas, so we were told.
An insider told me last week that SRMI actually exports four Panamax shipload of nickel every month. In the miners lingo one Panamax ship loads about 50,000 to 55,000 tons of nickel ore. At the height of its operations during the Aquino regime, the price of Nickel was at 5 per ton. Nickel demands and value during Aquino administration were that high because Indonesia imposed a ban on nickel ore exports.
If you think that is huge, it is actually a pittance compared to a virtually unknown nickel mining operations in faraway Tawi-Tawi. Al Tawi-Tawi Nickel Corporation is allegedly owned by unknown Filipino Chinese. The mine site, is in Langguyan, Tawi-Tawi. ATNC production output is not less than 600,000 metric tons per month. The Nickel content is high-grade at 1.8. By simple math, that's 2-million annually. SRMI averages about 6-million per year.
The operations of ATNC dated back during the time of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo when Lito Atienza was DENR Secretary. The MPSA was awarded to the Sali family who later farmed out their concession the current operators who in turn facilitated the processing of Environment Clearance Certificate. ATNC enjoyed the same extra-ordinary privilege when President Benigno Aquino III took over. Anybody who was/is somebody enjoys the bonanza so nobody complains.
When she assumed as DENR Secretary, Gina Lopez surprisingly hired a confidant, Engr. Leo Jazareno, a close ally of Aquino and Roxas. She also hired 50 consultants along with Jazareno. Known as ìLJî in the mining circle, he was appointed National Director of Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) by then DENR Secretary Ramon Paje. It was during the regime of Aquino that MGB under LJ and Paje removed from the local government the authority to issue Ore Transport Permit (OTP) and Mineral Ore Export Permit (MOEP). With that consolidation of power one can just imagine what the "Daang Matuwid" had achieved. It is mind-boggling and my poor-man's standard and cheap calculator cannot handle that.
Gina had every student activist and environmental NGOs (non government organizations) under her spell. She flew over mining area with a coterie of reporters and backed up by - of course ABS-CBN. When she return to her office she issued, left and right, suspension and closure orders that alarmed Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez! Her reason was that it is her prerogative to do so.
But mystery of mysteries, not only was SRMI given authority to continue operating, Gina, I recalled, even referred to SRMI as a model mining company. ATNC does not need that accolade, it is comfortable with its anonymity. I learned there was a perceptible attempt on the part of the owners to wiggle its way inside the Duterte Santo Santorum but this was rebuffed. Another information I got was that ATNC, during the Aquino regime, wanted to buyout AMCOR interest in Mati, Davao Oriental but this was pre-empted when the World Heritage declared Hamigitan Mountain Range as a World Heritage Site.
From these enumerations one can only deduce why the Liberal Party members of the CA to the man voted in favor of Gina. The two mining firms were footing the bills not only for Marís campaign but for the entire LP political machinery. Could this be the reason why Greenpeace is so enamored with Gina they locked themselves in the gates of DENR?
Certainly, contrary to the emotional mantra that Gina Lopez is the passionate fighter for environment, there are others who can better serve the government as DENR secretary. Besides, DENR is not about mining alone.
My gosh, a senator and a congressman may have ties with miners but hardly do we know that a cabinet member and the pillars of the Liberal Party were protecting the interest of the worst violators of our mining laws. All this because she thought it was her prerogative. In hindsight, when President Duterte hinted that ìmoney influencedî the decision of the CA he is actually telling us the bald truth.
You heard Gina sings "I believe I can fly"? It's time to listen to Johnny Mathis "Gina" that aptly ends with "Gina is mine alone".
(Mr. Jun Ledesma is a community journalist who writes from Davao City and comments from the perspective of a Mindanaoan)
About the Columnist
Mr. Jun Ledesma is a community journalist who writes from Davao City and comments from the perspective of a Mindanaoan.