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.

Friday, September 28, 2012

JPE’s memoir launch draws guests from six presidencies! Note several ironies, including evening’s civility among top political leaders who could be stiff enemies come 2013. Appeal to bring in the professionals applies to mining industry and China problem---both complex and needing deep study, not knee-jerk solutions.

Senate Pres. Juan Ponce Enrile

Last night’s launch by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile of his autobiography, a collaboration with professional biographer Nelson Navarro titled “Juan Ponce Enrile---A Memoir,” at the Manila Peninsula Hotel drew around 700 guests. It was a gathering as few events have drawn in the past, nor will in the future. This is because the 88-year old celebrant’s public career spanned 50 years---which has seen him politically hyper-active in six presidencies!

In fact, I cannot think of any other living individual who can make such a claim as the durable poor boy from Cagayan who morphed, as he put it, “from Juanito Furraganan, to Juan Ponce and on to Juan Ponce Enrile”---one of the most riveting but also frightfully controversial political personalities of contemporary Philippines. 

JPE said in his speech that his life story represents “the twists and turns of the long and bumpy road I had travelled;” but it also happens to be the bumpy story of the Philippines in modern times.  JPE wound it up by wondering “what lies ahead in the borrowed years of my remaining life." The Filipino nation, with all its unrealized potentials and complex problems, could share that wonder as we try to divine its future.


In fact, I thought that in last night's glittering gathering of the Who’s Who in our society could be gleaned in snapshot the history of our country. Seated with JPE in in the center were the current officialdom, namely, President Aquino, Vice-President Binay and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte. Nearby sat former President Estrada (who's running for mayor of Manila), GMA's former VP Tito Guingona and looking anxiously over the shoulders of JPE, hanging on to every word uttered by the man who had once betrayed her husband, was Imelda Marcos, sitting directly behind Cristina Ponce Enrile. 

The only other major political figures of the past two decades still around but absent from last night’s gathering were JPE’s partner in crime vs. Ferdinand Marcos, former President Ramos, and ailing former President GMA, who’s confined under bail in her La Vista home.

Outside the center’s cluster, the ballroom was filled with people associated with the past six presidencies and the vast zoo of political parties over the decades. Walking about at the Enrile launch was, in fact, somewhat like political sleepwalking---the journalist’s problem was how to ensure he connects the right face to the right administration. 


I’ll not repeat here what’s found in the 740-page JPE Memoir, that costs  P1,650 a copy. Rather, what’ I’d like to cite are the rich ironies of last night. As Oscar Lopez, the patriarch of the powerful Lopez clan, put it, it shouldn’t be lost on people that what he terms the “among the foremost victims of martial law”---which was his clan---should now be publishing JPE’s autobiography.  That's because, said Oskie, ABS-CBN Publishing wanted to put a "human face" on those past events. 

Neither should it be lost that the guest speaker, President Noynoy, had ordered at the recent 40th anniversary of the proclamation of Martial Law a review of how that dreaded era is being presented and remembered in our time---especially in our schools and history books. As I stated in my FB page earlier, it would be most interesting to see how the "revised" version of ML as ordered by P-Noy could be reconciled with the first-hand account  of JPE in his book. 

As P-Noy weighed in on ML in his prepared speech, the Marcos widow, Sen. Francisco Tatad who read Proclamation 1081 into history, and JPE, who was to morph from chief implementor of ML to initial dismantler of its dictatorship structure 14 years later, were all eyes and ears. 

It wasn’t also lost on me---and I’m sure on other political analysts in that ballroom---that sitting all in a row were the inevitable protagonists for 2013: the ruling LP coalition represented by the President, Franklin Drilon, Paquito Ochoa and other allies of P-Noy, vs. the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) of VP Binay, former President Erap and JPE, now termed the "Three Kings" of the so-called "United Opposition." Last night they all looked like one happy well-mannered family, but that’s going to be short-lived when the bell rings (which will be next week when UNA presents its senatorial candidates at its grand convention).


Last Wednesday I wrote on the raging controversy these days: can mining be environmentally compatible?  As Dr. Carlo Arcilla, director of the UP National Institute of Geological Sciences (UP-NIGS) put it recently at the maiden forum of the citizens’ group called “Bayan Ko Konsensya Ko,”  “Is mining an inherent evil, or can science and technology help in mitigating environmental costs that mining brings?”   “Why have many of the mining regions that have undergone mining remained poor?  Is this because mining is bad in itself?”

Arcilla laid down several premises. One is that our country is immensely wealthy in mineral resources. W're the 5th most mineralized country in the world, and in some places, it's said that when they give out gold medals in school, it’s solid gold. Diwalwal has the 4th largest gold deposits in the world, and last year Ph was the second largest exporter of nickel.

Unfortunately, said Dr. Arcilla, the government does not have the full resources to explore our mineral wealth, so it needs local and foreign investment to realize its full mineral potential. The problem, however, is that “the exploration gamble of business”---or the rate of success “from prospect to successful mine, is only estimated to be 8-10%.  Too small to be encouraging.


Arcilla acknowledges that the mining industry has a bad reputation of “unfulfilled promises and bad legacies” (the case of Marcher is always recalled). In fact, he stresses that the “greatest enemy of the mining industry is not the anti-mining movement (composed of environmental groups that include Church people), but the “bad practitioners who give mining, the industry and its professionals a bad name.”

But he also cites countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Sweden and even Malaysia and Indonesia that have current and past mining activities, “but have been able to derive some good from it.” In fact, at the forum he showed examples in other countries of mining exploration side by side with tourism sites, or veggie farms and reforestation. So it can be done.

The issue of equitable sharing of profits between the state which owns all the mineral properties, and the mining companie which are the “subcontractors,” always figures in the dispute. He asserts that there’s good reason to believe that if mining companies paid their taxes directly to the local governments where the minerals are extracted, instead of to Imperial Manila, the situation could be lessened. The Aquino administration talks of raising the government share from 2 percent to 7 percent.


One practice that does a lot of harm to our natural resources and the mining industry, Arcilla admits, is small-scale mining, “which is not always ‘small’, “ e.g., more than 70 percent of the gold produced by our country are mined by small-scale operators. The problem with small miners, he stresses, is that they don’t pay taxes, pollute the environment (especially with use of mercury that flows into our rivers and seas, killing the fish), use child labor and work in dangerous conditions. He argues that even if we were to stop large-scale mining, the accessible mineral deposits would be mined anyway by small-scale operators. 

Dr. Arcilla stressed that because our country is still developing, we need all the help we can get, and it is UNCONSCIONABLE not to use the great advantages offered to us by mineral wealth. Responsible mining must be encouraged. But to solve the small-scale mining problem it does not help, he said, that the President’s recent EO 79 and its implementing rules and regulations were done “almost in utmost secrecy” and without consultation with people who can help, such as the scientists and engineers from  academe.


The UP-NIGS director gives EO 79 the benefit of good intentions in protecting the environment, but the problem, he says, is that “it tries to please everybody and it lacks a deep scientific and technical backstop.” He cites as example the moratorium currently imposed by the EO on new mining agreements, which could, he opined, actually hurt exploration efforts by mining companies as well as the future employment of graduates of Geology, since it could cause many exploration companies to cease operations.

The lesson here, as in our China problem, is: let’s involve the professionals.

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