POSTSCRIPT / May 25, 2006 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Arming media an idiotic response to assassinations

ARMS-RACE: When told that journalists were complaining of the series of assassinations decimating their ranks, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez said “Give them guns!” presumably so the endangered members of media could shoot it out with their tormentors.

Such insensitive remarks are of the class of Marie Antoinette’s saying “Give them cake!” when informed that the French people were restive over their running out of bread.

Cabinet members, regardless of age and state of mind, should be ordered by President Gloria Arroyo to think before they talk. She should admonish them to temper their alleged wisdom with an understanding of the mass mind.

Passing out the guns and ammo to the press will not solve, but will in fact aggravate, the problem rooted in runaway lawlessness and a general failure of governance.

The murder of several journalists (42 so far under the watch of President Arroyo!) who had dared to speak up for the aggrieved underscores the administration’s failure to enforce the law and to bring violators to justice.

The certainty, or at least the high probability, of being caught and punished is the most effective deterrent to crime. An arms race would just escalate the violence.

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STATE MINING: What? The government plunging into commercial mining and competing with the private sector and foreign investors?

It seems that the Mines and Geo-sciences Bureau (MGB) is itching to have the government operate the North Davao Mining Corp., one of those companies that the old Asset Privatization Trust failed to sell to the private sector.

From my vantage, it does not look feasible. With the gaping revenue leakages and the high-level graft draining the treasury, the government will have to scrape the bottom to finance an adventure into full-time mining.

Who will hold the line and stop the usual well-connected operators from milking the state mining firm? Who will prevent politicians from putting in their protégés…?

The government cannot even put order — enforce the law — in the Diwalwal mountain of gold, now it wants to essay into mining? (Ms President, get those generals out of the Diwalwal racket first.)

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NORTH DAVAO CASE: Kung sabagay, a fortune lies waiting to be extracted from our mountains. With metals prices shooting through the roof, the mines bureau’s proposal may sound sensible.

But has the cash-strapped government got what it takes? Mining is a highly speculative business. I understand for every 500 holes drilled, only one, yes one, is sometimes found viable. Exploration takes years and — despite technological advances — a lot of luck.

North Davao is supposedly a spent mine, but people in the know say it still has potential. How to explore and exploit that potential is the problem.

State mining may be one solution, but it goes against the policy of government getting out of business, of not competing with the private sector.

Bidding it out seems to be the next best thing, but there is a hitch: North Davao’s mine area overlaps that of Apex Mining.

The case has been with the MGB since 1998 and the bureau has yet to go into the merits. At this rate, especially with lawyers on the ready, NDMC could go the way of the Marcos ill-gotten wealth issue that spanned decades.

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SAME FATE: Given the legal complications, it is unlikely that foreign companies would bid if bidding were held. Maybe, Apex (which foreigners bought from the Puyats last year) could bid, because if it wins, it takes over the contested area and the case becomes moot.

But assuming there would be no bidding for lack of interested parties, even state mining might not be a good option unless the contested areas can be set aside.

If so, my guess is that a retired general would be installed president of the firm. That general would then bring in his former colleagues, and politicians their own “hakot.” Immediately, the company is handicapped from square one.

The end result would be government subsidy. The irony here is that while we taxpayers foot the bill, we are neither stockholders nor direct beneficiaries.

It reminds me of the Bases Conversion Development Authority. In the mid-90s, it had only about 60 persons on its staff and was doing very well. Now, with a big chunk of its best property, The Fort, already in private hands, it has more than a thousand.

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FIRM HAND: Back to mining. The fate of Lafayette Phils. in Rapu Rafu, Albay, is the mining issue of the day. So far, the government has been handling it well, keeping at bay an aggressive campaign by anti-mining groups and the Left.

The whole world is watching and from the looks of it, Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Angelo Reyes has shown a steady hand.

Malacañang too has been firm in its stand to support responsible mining, even after President Gloria Arroyo received the predictably negative report of a commission headed by an anti-mining bishop.

The President’s pro-mining stance is understandable. After all, anti-mining sectors, bishops included, have only proffered destructive criticism. They have not proposed any program for creating more wealth, or opening jobs for workers to be displaced by the closure of mines.

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OBVIOUS BIAS: Besides, the commission compromised its credibility when, among other lapses, it insisted on affirming technical errors that had already been discredited or shown to be false by tests conducted by competent authority.

Several scientific studies by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and the UP National Science and Research Institute showed there was no mercury contamination of the waters, fishes and sediments of the coastal areas of Rapu Rapu in Albay and of Sorsogon across the bay.

The National Bureau of Investigation was called in to investigate the hoax. Its initial findings showed a campaign by unidentified groups to block the Rapu Rapu project by spreading a scare on the supposed contamination of the waters and fishes in Sorsogon.

The mercury contamination claim looks doubtful because in the first place, Lafayette, according to its officials, does not use mercury.

Yet the bishop and some members of his commission insisted in their report to President Arroyo that there was mercury contamination traceable to the spillage from the Lafayatte mine. If ever, where did the mercury come from?

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WE’RE RICH!: Yesterday, my barber said “if only we had oil….” I keep hearing that comment from other people who wish we were rich as a country.

But we are rich in natural and human resources!

The problem is that the wise utilization of these bountiful resources has not been ingrained into our individual and national psyche. In fact, because we see their abundance around us, we have taken them for granted and even abused them.

Our mineral resources are our oil. We are in the top five in the world in terms of mineral reserves, estimated in most studies to be worth some $3 trillion.

This early we have to make sure environmental laws are strictly enforced and mining companies operate under a severe threat of official sanctions in case of spills and violations.

Mining technology is so advanced these days that there are cases where mined-out areas actually had been left in better condition than before they were mined.

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LAST CHANCE: This one of the reasons why, I think, Lafayette under its new management should be given a chance to clean up and do it right next time.

Lafayette cannot afford another incident after its two spills in October. That is the best guarantee of its compliance. A third hit and Lafayette strikes out. Another spill will mean closure, no ifs and buts. And the whole mining industry will be affected.

That is why Lafayette’s new management under its chairman and president Carlos G. Dominguez has no choice but to strictly stick to the law and all the rules. Anything less could be a small hole that the anti-mining groups could bore bigger.

It is not like the company was hiding anything. Dominguez has admitted there were two spillages in October and has taken corrective measures to prevent a repetition.

After affirming that Lafayette has already complied with all conditions for a safe resumption of operations, he asked the government to be allowed to test the safeguards installed. The commission balked, saying that will be like “experimenting with people’s lives.”

An advocate of environment protection, Dominguez was secretary of environment and natural resources under then President Cory Aquino. He initiated the Bantay Dagat program, cancelled logging concessions and fought the muro-ami fishing method that used children as divers.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 25, 2006)

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