Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Mining bill is an assault on local autonomy

House Bill No. 5367, filed recently by Marikina Representative Romero Quimbo, is a draft measure to enact the “Philippine Fiscal Regime and Revenue Sharing Arrangement for Large-scale Metallic Mining Act of 2014.” The proponents of the bill are presenting it as a measure to rationalize the existing sharing schemes on mining revenues. A closer review of the bill reveals, however, that it is poised to impose the greatest setback to local government autonomy since Ferdinand Marcos concentrated power under his martial law regime.
The bill is designed to bypass local governments and allow the national government to exploit resources unimpeded. The bill will cut local governments’ powers to regulate the effects of mining and reduce their financial bases. It promises a quick financial payoff at the expense of local government autonomy and community rights. There are many reasons to be wary of this bill and the most insidious provisions are sections 5, 6 and 7.
Section 5 of the bill provides that “all mining areas governed by this Act shall be declared by the President as Mining Industry Zones.” These mining areas are approved and certified by the Mining and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) then endorsed by the Secretary of the Environment to the President. The MGB approval and certification process shall pass through consultation with the concerned local government units and the indigenous cultural communities if the mining area is within an ancestral domain. The consultation process shall include an endorsement from the LGU for the establishment of the mining area as an MIZ. The section further states that the LGU endorsement shall include a waiver of its power to regulate the mining business operations through issuance of business permits and other license requirements imposed by the LGU pursuant to the Local Government Code of 1991, as amended.”
In short, local governments are required to endorse the establishment of the MIZ and then surrender their powers to regulate mining activities. Local governments cannot have any role in the MIZ. Section 6 of the bill provides that "Any local issuances and/or directions that may be issued by the host LGU, which may affect or relate to mining operations and other incidental activities thereto, shall be consistent with and shall conform to the provisions of this Act and to the laws, regulations, policies and decisions taken by the national government."
Clearly the bill will not tolerate any opposition to mining. The phrase "other incidental activities" could cover a wide range of concerns, such as pollution or other public health issue. If this bill were passed into law, local governments will be prohibited from addressing health concerns or other emergencies which they could under present laws.
Section 5 also erases the consultation provisions found in Sections 2(c), 26 and 27 of the Local Government Code. These provisions extend the consultation requirements to all stakeholders, not only local governments. The bill does not require the consent of local officials before the national government can implement projects.
Section 7 provides that “payment of the Government share shall be in lieu of all national and local taxes including corporate income tax, royalty for the ICCs, duties on imported specialized capital mining equipment, fees for mayors and/or business permits, and other fees and charges imposed by the host LGUs pursuant to the Local Government Code of 1991, as amended.” In other words, mining companies only need to provide the national government's share and nothing more. Local governments will be denied the power to raise revenues from activities related to mining.
House Bill No. 5367 poses too many risks to the environment, the health of host communities, and to the cause of local autonomy. It threatens rights presently enjoyed by indigenous peoples under the Indigenous Peoples' Rights Act of 1997. It ensures that mining will continue unabated.
The issue raised by House Bill No. 5367 is not the fact that local governments hosting mining operations will have a share in the revenues. This is already mandated by the Constitution. The issue with the bill is how it cuts out local officials from the mining operations, disempowering its officials from protecting the environment and their constituents.
In the end, the bill seeks nothing less than the surrender of local government autonomy over mining activities. If passed, local governments will end up exactly where they were during the Marcos dictatorship, voiceless and helpless to raise objections to the national government's drive to extract recourses from their territories. 

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