How we value our environment

Corporate Watch
Amelia H. C. Ylagan

Posted on April 24, 2017

Why is it so hot this summer?

Some 150 people who were at Winner Foundation’s simple Earth Day celebration last Saturday at the Arroceros Forest Park spent most of their energy fanning themselves in the shade instead of moving around the organic food stands and offerings of indigenous tribal weaves and handicraft. A children’s marching band played jaunty marimba music for all to forget the heat. A Holy Mass held was likely the examination of conscience for sins against the Creator and His creations.

A few people availed of Reiki healing -- an attunement of one’s life force energy with Nature, a “detox” of emotions and feelings by the laying of hands by a Reiki master. Some did yoga on mats laid upon the earth, under the broken shade of Ipil trees. In the ’50s and ’60s, it was almost darkness and total coolness under the thick canopy of trees in the urban forest even in daytime, the old-timers recalled.

Climate change. We did it to ourselves -- the bizarre changes in the planet we live in are the results of cannibalizing upon ourselves by pre-emptively and exploitively choosing comfort and convenience, profit and power over respecting the balance of nature that would have anyway automatically ensured our survival and convenience. Can humans call themselves intelligent when they cause self-destruction by the arrogance of superior knowledge and control over other life forms? Nature cannot but defend itself, as it is now regrettably doing.

Thus in the inordinate heat at the Earth Day celebrations at the many times-raped Arroceros Forest Park, the common talk among the feverishly sweating, furiously fanning crowd was the environment vis-à-vis the mining industry in the country, and the colorful personalities involved by whose hands the current raging controversies must be resolved.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte has supported Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources Regina “Gina” Lopez’s Feb. 2 order to shut 23 of the country’s 41 mines to protect watersheds; she suspended another five for environmental infringements and also canceled 75 contracts for undeveloped mines (Reuters 03.13.2017). Duterte said: “we can survive without mining,” as he belittled the mining sector’s contribution of an estimated P70 billion ($1.39 billion) a year to revenue (Ibid.) “He accused some miners of funding efforts to destabilize his government as he talked about a possible plan to impose a ban on mining given the environmental damage producers have caused” (Ibid.).

Twice, the confirmation of Gina Lopez as DENR Secretary was turned down by the Senate Commission on Appointments. A third rejection at a May 3 hearing would oust her from her position. The main objection to her is the closure, allegedly without due process, of the mines. Can the President still insist on her being Secretary beyond lack of confirmation? If he can’t keep her, he will probably just say, “I tried.”

At a tête à tête on Earth Day, some said the Appointments Commission “will see the light” and finally confirm her. Good for the environment, and lookin’ good for Duterte, who will be perceived as pro-environment.

The Philippines is the world’s biggest supplier of nickel ore (Al Jazeera 02.11.2017). “Around 70% of the world’s nickel is used to make stainless steel,” explains Caroline Bain of London-based Capital Economics. “Nickel is also used in aerospace and green batteries and chemicals, so there are considerable ramifications.” (Ibid.). “Cutting off about 8% of global nickel supply (has) huge implications, given the Philippines supplies around 97% of China’s nickel,” Bain says (Ibid.).

The National Competitiveness Council (NCC) has publicly warned that the closure and suspension of 28 out of 41 operating mines may affect the country’s standing in some global reports, particularly those that include rule of law, contracts, and formation of public policy as indicators (The Philippine Star 03.17.2017). “After the Philippines dropped 10 notches in last year’s World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report, the NCC called for further reforms in the country’s bureaucracy, infrastructure, technology and innovation” (Ibid.)

There is always the conflict between what’s good or bad for the environment (which is long-term), and what’s good or bad for business profit, the government’s current economic performance (GDP and other scorecards) and urgencies like labor and jobs. Then there is the complication and aggravation of leaders of nations probably not understanding or not knowing how to deal with the environment, or worse still -- blowing hot and cold on environmental issues to gain political advantage.

In his campaign, now US President Donald Trump declared climate change a hoax that the Chinese invented, and has appointed known climate-change skeptics to the Department of Energy (The Huffington Post 05.23.2017).

Will the world still believe the supposed leader of environment and climate change programs, when in his first 100 days as President, Trump has moved to eliminate several protections for the environment: as one example, Trump repealed the Stream Protection Rule, which protected streams from mining operations. That is not very different from the controversy over mining here in the Philippines, where concerned citizens, and ultimate victims of transgressions against the environment are perplexed and anxious for the survival of present and future generations, as they should be.

What’s to be done?

The theme for the 2017 Earth Day suggests an intensive information campaign for the environment. This will hopefully elevate human intelligence to the true inequality of choices between the Machiavellian end-justifying-the-means for present convenience brought by technological advances vis-à-vis long term sustainability and survival of humankind in finite Creation.

Driving out from the Arroceros Forest Park after a long and punishingly hot Earth Day, one notices huge derelict piles of rusting vehicle chasses left to rot by various government offices, stacked there for years. Doesn’t this say a mournful lot for how we really value our environment?

Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.