Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

People need to know that P-Noy understands their problems; Ph should re-examine peace talks direction in light of attacks on Surigao mines

The Palace went into all kinds of justifications for what media term the “disappearing act” of the “invisible President” last week. Palace deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a Palace press conference that President Aquino did not show up in public in the first days in the aftermath of Pedring’s onslaught, after his arrival from Tokyo last Wednesday, Sept. 28, because he did not want to take away the focus of officials as well as facilities such as helicopters from relief and rescue operations. But Valte stressed that P-Noy was closely monitoring developments behind the scene with governors of the affected provinces.


The Palace missed the whole point. When the flood waters in Central Luzon began to rise perilously last week until in many places they were above the heads of people, THAT WAS THE TIME the increasingly desperate folks---by then being evacuated in the thousands from their rooftops---needed to feel the reassuring presence of the father and leader of the nation. They needed to know that P-Noy knew what they were going through as they shivered in the rain  and the dirty flood waters, without food and power and many sick of diarrhea and respiratory diseases. They needed to know that he was in command of the situation.


But it took him only last Sunday, Oct. 2, or five days from his arrival from Tokyo, to attend the command conference at the National Disaster Risk-Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC). It was only today that he choppered to several places in Central Luzon.  In hindsight what he should have done was to proceed to Aguinaldo straight from the airport last  Sept. 28.

P-Noy is undergoing a severe test of leadership---something he never exercised before in his life and the inexperience is taking a toll on him---and the nation.  People certainly didn’t expect him to wade through the head-high waters and risk leptospirosis, but his advisers could have counseled him to perhaps call a conference early on at key points in the region, such as Malolos and San Fernando and get briefings from civil and military/police officials---which was what he did ONLY TODAY. But such is the demand of leadership that when the top gun is “missing in action,” as even ABS-CBN began to taunt  him to be, the lesser lights cease to be effective. 


Criticisms flew thick and fast from media and the public about how inept and inadequate the response of the government has been to the crisis---P-Noy himself was the first to acknowledge this. The political opposition was quick to attribute it to his having scrapped the budget for training of new disaster relief personnel last year, in an effort to save on his calamity funds, which have ballooned to nearly P20 billion in the 2012 budget. This is another lesson learned for incoming administrations: such critical personnel should not be replaced just because they were employed by the previous administration.

As it turned out in succeeding days, there were yawning gaps in rescue and rehab and some people in the calamity areas sarcastically told P-Noy over TV to stay away and just send food and water.  But today, many were happy enough to hear that he made a fly-by or a "windshield visit" in their areas---as we say, mababaw talaga ang kaligayahan ng Pinoy. Gusto lang nilang makita kahit anino lang ng Pangulo.

P-Noy was clearly super-piqued by all the batikos, but perhaps this was needed to rouse him from his stupor and laid-back style of governance. He will have to confront the magnitude of the rehabilitation and reconstruction needed if this country is ever to go BEYOND coping with the 20 typhoons each year ---it’s simply mind-boggling.  The question that crops up, more and more now, is, is P-Noy up to this herculean task? 


Dr. Carlo Arcilla
Cecile Alvarez and I followed up on the mines issue we had featured over dzRH the week earlier with Sagittarius Mines Inc.(SMI) communications executive John Arnaldo and Star columnist Chit Pedrosa. This was spurred by our visit to South Cotabato for the multi-sectoral dialogue on SMI’s application for a permit, called by Gov. Arthur Pingoy. For our radio program last Sunday we invited Dr. Carlo Arcilla, director of the UP College of Sciences’ National Institute of Geological Sciences (NIGS), to give us an over-view of the country’s wealth in  minerals and the state of the mining industry here. Stressing that Ph is the fifth or sixth most mineralized country in the world, Arcilla cited as prime example the nickel deposits in the Surigao provinces which are among the richest in the world, and how, in many areas, gold and copper can be found beneath these nickel deposits.  

Imagine our dismay when we heard of the NPA attacks on three mining firms in Surigao the very next day---where they burned mining equipment and facilities and briefly hostaged some personnel in what was labeled the “Pearl Harbor” of the mining industry. It’s obvious the rebels knew the damage they’d wreak on the industry and Ph's prospects for foreign investments, at a time when the nation is reeling from environmental disasters and in bad need of gargantuan funds for the imperative rehabilitation and reconstruction of Central and Northern Luzon. 


NDF Chief Luis Jalandoni was quoted justifying the attacks as “retaliation” for what he claimed was the mining industry’s ravages on the environment which were “anti-people.”  But as media have pointed it, it’s the NPA’s attacks that are clearly anti-people, for they now jeopardize the firms' operations, which could mean the loss of easily a thousand jobs in a given area, not to mention billions in badly needed revenues for government.

These attacks are indication of the rebel group’s insincerity and perhaps it’s best for the government, which is supposed to reopen the peace talks with them later this month in Norway, to re-examine its course of action first. 


Dr. Arcilla stressed a point often lost on critics of big-scale joint mining ventures between Filipino and foreign capital. He said that except for isolated environmental degradations in the past (the most notable in recent memory were those of Marcopper in Marinduque---BOC), the multinational firms conform to established regulations. By contrast, he said, it’s the small-scale miners whose activities are difficult to monitor or regulate, one reason being that they need only seek the local government’s approval (perhaps dealing with just one person), whereas the big-scale corporations have to get it from the national government, with its several agencies. Arcilla said 70 percent of our miners are small-scale.

One big drawback in the case of small miners is that they use mercury which is super-toxic and pollutes our waterways, killing the fish, he said, whereas the big firms do not resort to it.  Arcilla stressed that this is what’s happening in Mt. Diwalwal in the Compostela Valley, which contains "world-class gold deposits"---use of mercury is rampant. In fact, he said there’s fear in the industry that should the government fail to grant a permit to the SMI for its proposed copper-gold project in Tampakan, South Cotabato, the vast mineral resources there would be left to small miners to exploit. "Kakahuyin nila ito," he said.  

(Next: big mining companies should police themselves) 

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