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, September 26, 2012

UNA leaders’ verbal assault on Trillanes, whom P-Noy appointed as back-channel negotiator, presages battle between ruling LP and UNA---eight months before 2013 elections. Falling-out between MVP and Ateneo stems from conflicting mining views. UP Geology Institute Chief Arcilla says that in conflict with China, we should query it: Do you want our nickel or not? Ph is nearest source of nickel for China.

I agree with Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago that Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile---who launches tomorrow afternoon at the Manila Peninsula  his autobiography, "Juan Ponce Enrile: A Memoir," mainly spanning his 50 years of public life---has nothing to gain in pulverizing further Sen. Antonio Trillanes.  Despite surveys purporting to show that JPE’s popularity has surpassed that of Manny Villar and even the legendary Jovito Salonga, he would reach the point of diminishing returns if he doesn’t hang up his gloves vs. Trillanes. 

In fact if he goes on, JPE would begin to make a martyr of the coup plotter (which is what Trillanes wants, to ensure his reelection). So JPE should heed Miriam and shut up now, if he knows what’s good for him.  


The recent fireworks in the Senate do not only indicate a clash between the aging institutional leader and the brash and arrogant upstart. It’s clearly also a battle between the Liberal Party coalition and the United Nationalist Alliance---a full eight months ahead of the 2013 elections.

Note that after JPE's expose and assault of Trillanes, former President Erap Estrada, who heads the Partido ng Masang Pilipino (of which JPE is chair) and his son Sen. Jinggoy Estrada weighed in, accusing the neophyte senator of ingratitude and disrespect toward JPE. Two days ago Vice President Jejomar Binay, who chairs the PDP-Laban, also started verbally punching the guy. Don’t forget that the PMP and the PDP-Laban are the two main pillars of UNA. 

It should also be recalled that President Aquino finally admitted the other day that he appointed Trillanes as back-channel negotiator with China; hence, in the Trillanes fiasco, the buck stops with P-Noy. Thus, by hitting Trillanes, JPE and the other UNA bigwigs are actually attacking P-Noy and showing him up to be an incompetent leader and even Trillanes’ co-conspirator in the China issue.


This issue that could involve Philippine sovereignty is what lawyers with naughty minds like Alan Paguia are thinking of exploiting as ground for P-Noy’s impeachment---except that the House is fully controlled by his allies, so it would be a suntok sa buwan.

What’s easier to foresee this early is a coup in slow progress vs. JPE in the  weeks leading to the elections---so that Congress would be in the hands of the LPs by then.  Whether the coup would succeed is another question.


Manny Pangilinan

The withdrawal by business tycoon Manny Pangilinan of his long-standing support for his alma mater, the Ateneo de Manila University, brought into sharper focus the plight of the mining industry in this country. MVP’s beef against the university, aside from its support for the Church’s stand against the RH bill, is its continuing negative attitude toward mining, reflected as early as its November 2011 mining conference, to which no officials from the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) were invited.

A Jesuit paper  titled, "The Golden Mean in Mining: Talking Points," reportedly written by no less than Jesuit Provincial Jose Magadia, was supposed to provide guidelines for intelligent thinking on the industry for its members and affiliated organizations; but it's viewed outside as predominantly negative.

That conference in Ateneo de Manila was repeated earlier this year in the Ateneo de Davao where an international conference on mining was held; a foreign guest speaker liberally criticized the operations of the Tampakan copper-gold project in South Cotabato, but not a single official of the Sagittarius Mining Co.---which has invested heavily in that mining exploration for a few years now and promises to be the biggest single foreign investment in Ph once fully operational---was invited---despite the company's request for attendance.


MVP’s protest against Ateneo’s anti-mining stand came in the wake of  the recent mining summit sponsored by COMP, which protested certain provisions in the President’s recently issued EO 79. In COMP’s view the EO amended, sans legislative action, the 1995 Philippine Mining Act that was upheld by the SC.

A major objection of the industry to this EO is the controversial Sec. 9, which, said COMP, cuts the maximum 50-year period for projects, in violation of the Mining Act, and instead subjects the second 25-year period to “new terms and conditions pursuant to the law, rules and regulations existing at the time of the renewal…”  COMP has threatened to go to court over Sec. 9, and it appears that the administration has relented, by letting the Mining Act provision stay, probably for the meantime.

EO 79, however, subjects new mining applications to a moratorium, but COMP maintains that this would dampen the enthusiasm of foreign companies. This is because they would have to sink so much capital into exploration---without any guarantee of seeing their project to full fruition.

Thus, COMP foresees that given the new restrictions in EO 79, the projected $2 billion income of Ph from mining for this year---estimated to total to $16 billion income for the entire Aquino administration---may not  materialize.


All these recent developments reflect continuing tension between noisy environmental anti-mining groups on the one hand, and the controversial mining industry on the other---with the government trying to do a tough tinikling between them.

Dr. Carlo Arcilla

The newly-formed Bayan Ko Konsensya Ko (BKKK), led by lawyer Tranquil Salvador, thought we'd help seek some light on this controversial industry. At its maiden forum last week, we invited as one of the speakers Dr. Carlo Arcilla, Director of the National Institute of Geological Sciences at the UP, and his talk proved very relevant. 

Arcilla weighed in on the raging “China” problem by saying we should just remind our giant neighbor of one word--- “nickel.”  He stressed that in its full-throttle drive toward industrialization, China sorely lacks three minerals, which Ph has in immense quantities: nickel, iron ore and copper. But most of all, says Arcilla, China needs nickel, of which Ph is one of the richest and nearest---sources (next to Ph, there's Indonesia). 

With a telling smile the NIGS Chief says, “We should tell China: 'Do you want our nickel?' "


In the controversy involving environmental groups, the mining industry and regulatory government, says Arcilla, it‘s time to call in the scientists, “specifically geologists, whose scientific work involves the study of minerals and how they can be of use by society.”

The main question he puts forward is what’s on every thinking Filipino’s mind: To mine or not to mine? Given all the negatives about mining---the “heavy baggage of unfulfilled promises and bad legacies” that the industry, “because of past egregious activities,” has left behind---Arcilla queries: "Is mining an inherent evil, or can science and technology help mitigate the environmental costs that mining brings?” 

To put it differently, he queries: "Can responsible mining and exploration of the immense mineral wealth of the Philippines (we're said to be the fifth most mineralized country in the world---BOC)) be conducted while minimizing environmental damage?"  In other words, "Is environmentally-compatible mining possible?" 

This question becomes so relevant today because Philex Mining, the country's largest gold mining corporation, which is held up as a model in environmental compliance, currently suffers from a massive tailings spill that threaten several rivers (reports put the rehab bill at P1 billion, but informed sources say it could run up to several billions). 


UP-NIGS Chief Arcilla continues: Because mining is an “extractive temporary land-use process (i.e., one takes out the minerals from the earth, which means they're not infinite) how can we ensure that there'll be “equity” in mining?  Meaning, “why must many of the mining regions of our country that have undergone mining remain poor, generally?” Is this because mining is bad in itself?"

My own query to Dr. Arcilla at the BKKK forum: If we have so much mineral wealth in our country, why are we still poor?

(To be continued)

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