Breaktime: Matter of principalBy Conrado R. Banal III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
If the powerful DENR boss, Secretary Ramon Paje, must fight for the “principles” that he strongly declared in media recently, he has to come up with another dramatic move. Or, maybe, another remarkable press statement.
His colleagues in the Cabinet just slapped him in the face. According to reports, the Mining Industry Coordinating Council, or MICC, which is made up of Cabinet members, already agreed to overturn Paje on certain rules that he crafted to cover the entire large-scale mining industry.
Just a few days ago, Paje took pains to explain to media his rather noble reasons for coming up with the controversial rules. It seemed that, to him, it was all a matter of principles.
What now—I take it that the MICC is throwing Paje’s righteousness out of the Malacañang window.
To implement Executive Order 79, which laid down the policy of the Aquino (Part II) administration in the mining sector, Paje finally came out with the IRR, the implementing rules and regulations, many months after our leader Benigno Simeon (aka BS) signed the order.
Immediately, the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, or the CMOP, threatened to go to court over the IRR, in particular Section 9, which the chamber claimed was against the law, and it was not even contained in the EO itself.
In other words, Paje was shaping his own mining policy. This is the same guy who, according to our contacts in the MICC, did not even attend a single meeting of the council when it called executives in the mining industry, perhaps to listen to their views on the mining policy of our leader, BS.
Under the mining law, called RA 7942 or the Mining Act of 1995, the contracts of mining companies with the government are allowed to last for 25 years, which are renewable for another 25 years.
Perhaps the upright Paje thought it best to cut the life of the contracts to just the first 25 years, forcing the mining companies to renegotiate the contracts with the DENR after expiration.
Under EO 79, the government has to come up with a new income-sharing scheme with the mining companies. At the moment, the industry is waiting for the new scheme. Under the Paje rule, meanwhile, any mining company with expiring contract must go to Paje to renegotiate.
With fighting words, Paje issued a statement, noting that CMOP was simply exerting pressure on him. He also said the contracts were all one-sided. Thus, in inventing the rule on contract renegotiation, he said he only wanted to protect the state and the future generations. I could almost cry.
The guys down here in my barangay know that “negotiation” between companies and the government always happens across the table. We also know only too well that some other things do happen under it.
In their minds, these guys perhaps believed Paje when he avowed righteousness and love of country for mutating the order of our leader, BS, into something that suited his agenda.
Do I take it that the MICC members, by overturning Paje, are not mindful of protecting the state and the future generations, and they caved in to pressure from the big boys in the mining industry? In other words, they have no principles whatsoever?
By the way, the members of the council are, aside from Paje, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo, Energy Secretary Rene Almendras, Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan and Presidential Assistant for Climate Change Elisea Gozun.
Between members of the mining council and Paje, I tend to choose the latter as the most likely to say things wanting to serve his interest.
When Paje, for instance, became DENR boss, he issued a memorandum to suspend the issuance of new mining permits. Subsequently, he claimed he had not issued a single permit since then.
Still, reports revealed that the DENR had issued a mining permit, called MPSA, or the mineral production sharing agreement, to a company called Mount Sanai in February 2011. Paje took over the post of DENR secretary just a month before that.
It so happens also that the DENR boss was the one single individual in this country of more than 90 people and some 40 million of them are poor, who pushed our leader, BS, to issue a total logging ban.
Reports had it that Paje looked the total ban as the only way for the Aquino (Part II) administration to stop the rape of our forests by illegal loggers. Ban logging and no more trees would fall—something like that.
For the two years of the total ban, when illegal logging was supposed to have stopped, the DENR itself reported that its anti-logging task force had apprehended and, reportedly, confiscated 13 million board feet of logs.
It simply meant that illegal logging did not stop. Those 13 million board feet of confiscated logs must only be a small portion of the production of illegal logging syndicates. Paje himself admitted that the DENR could only watch a small portion of the forests in the entire country for illegal logging activities. Thus, the big problem should be the illegal logs that the DENR did not catch.
In a hearing in Congress, it was revealed that the late Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo was conducting an investigation of the affairs of the DENR anti-illegal logging task force, particularly its head, retired Major General Renato Miranda.
It seems that Robredo found out that the task force head met in a restaurant with some logging companies just a couple of months before. A confidential report to Robredo, supposedly submitted by his special assistant, alleged that members of the DENR task force tried to collect protection money from illegal logging syndicates. In a way, it was alleged that Miranda was meeting with some payoff principals.
Ironically, Paje himself noted that the so-called Caraga region (Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur and Dinagat Islands) was what he called “top producer” of illegal logs. And where did the supposed illegal loggers who met with Miranda operate? Right, Caraga region!
Only a few days ago, Paje absolved Miranda of all sins. He said that without Miranda in the task force, those 13 million board feet would not have been caught, meaning, it was proof that Miranda did not have any link with illegal loggers. Paje simply dismissed Miranda’s meeting with the Caraga syndicate as “error of judgment.”
In the wood industry, they are saying that those 13 million board feet of apprehended logs were only a small portion of the entire illegal logging production. Wood prices are not going up, indicating there is ample supply.
What Paje did not say was, really, how many millions of board feet more of illegally cut trees that the DENR task force did not catch—perhaps out of principles to protect the state and the future generations.
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