Aquino on new mining EO: Governors can go to courtBy Christine O. Avendaño, Vincent Cabreza
Inquirer Northern Luzon, Philippine Daily Inquirer
LA TRINIDAD, Benguet— President Benigno Aquino on Monday stood by the new mining executive order (EO) awaiting his signature and welcomed a challenge in the Supreme Court on whether national laws could set aside local ordinances.
Mr. Aquino was asked by reporters to comment on a statement last week by Governor Joey Salceda of Albay province that some 40 governors would go to court to question the much-awaited mining policy once it comes out, fearing that the measure would “destroy the countryside” that municipal legislation was protecting.
The President said that the Constitution was “very clear” that national laws had primacy over local legislation.
He cited constitutional limitations on the law-making powers of local governments and the scope of their ordinances.
“There is also a clause that [local laws] should [be consistent] with national laws,” he said. “We are not a federated government. We are like a republican unitary government.”
Asked whether Salceda was misinformed, Mr. Aquino said the governor’s conclusions were “premature.”
He said he had not yet signed the order, stressing that there was “still some language I am not comfortable with.”
He also added that the measure was a result of discussions with many stakeholders.
“But if [the governors] feel their rights have been trampled upon, by all means they can go to appropriate courts,” the President said.
But Mr. Aquino said he was “confident” that Salceda “would not have said something that said ordinances that they have promulgated on a local basis will supplant national laws.”
At a media forum on Friday, Salceda said the governors regarded as “provocative” the move that would invalidate local ordinances against mining.
He said that the new policy would “breed inequality of income and assets” and subvert local efforts to preserve the environment.
The Marinduque Council for Environmental Concerns on Monday rallied behind Salceda, an economic adviser to then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo but who supported Mr. Aquino in the May 2010 presidential election.
In an online message sent to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Miguel Magalang, the council’s executive director, said the Church-supported nongovernmental organization opposed weakening the mandate of municipal officials under the Local Government Code of 1991.
Magalang pointed out that in the recently concluded Rio+20 environmental summit in Rio de Janeiro, a document, “The Future We Want,” encouraged action at the “regional, national, subnational and local levels to promote access to information, public participation and access to justice in environmental matters.”
The Philippines is committed to support the document, he said, adding that any mining policy issued without consultation with local communities and local governments would contradict “the people’s right to access to information” and restrain “their right to public participation.”
The council is involved in the campaign in Marinduque seeking justice for communities damaged by Marcopper Mining Corp.’s toxic mine spill in 1996. It has also been raising health and tax issues related to Marcopper’s operation in the province.
Marcopper ceased operations in 1996 when the capital town of Boac was submerged in floodwaters and tailings due to a collapsed tunnel of the company’s Tapian Pit. The spill rendered the Boac River “biologically dead.”
Environmental groups in the Visayas also expressed concern on Monday over the executive order.
Local voices decisive
“Many communities and local governments have stood up against destructive mining policies. They should be the decisive voice in determining whether to allow mining or not,” said Ma. Geobelyn Lopez, secretary general of the Madia-as-Ecological Movement.
“It is not just a matter of getting more revenues for the government but the utilization of our resources while prioritizing national patrimony and the interest of communities,” she said.
Lopez said at least 11 provinces had passed ordinances declaring a moratorium on large-scale mining, including Capiz, Guimaras, Negros Occidental, Samar, Eastern Samar and Northern Samar.
John Heredia, the spokesperson of the Capiz Environmental Protection Alliance, said the new mining policy could set aside a landmark ordinance imposing a 50-year moratorium on large-scale mining in the province.
“Mining should be treated as a national issue because its effects on the environment go beyond the borders of local government units. But when communities and their LGU [oppose] mining, the national government must respect that decision,” said Jay Pefianco, an environmentalist in Antique. With reports from Gerald Gene R. Querubin, Inquirer Southern Luzon, and Nestor P. Burgos Jr., Inquirer Visayas