Duterte wants land-use law, strict mining rules

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President Duterte, in his State of the Nation Address (Sona) on Monday, vowed to prioritize the passage of a national land-use policy and the tightening of mining protocols in a bid to ensure food security and preserve the environment.

In his Sona,  Duterte cited as an example Mindanao, which saw its food production decline due to the strong typhoons that battered the island in recent years.

With this, the President urged lawmakers to ensure the quick passage of a national land-use policy, which the House of Representatives approved in May.

“I am appealing to all our legislators to immediately pass the National Land Use Act to ensure the rational and sustainable use of our land and our physical resources, given the competing needs of food security, housing, businesses and environmental conservation,” he said.

House Bill (HB) 5240, or the National Land Use and Management Act of the Philippines, intends to classify land use into four functions: protection of land use; production-land use; settlements development; and infrastructure development.

“Ours is a rich country. Wealth this country is endowed with [is] a gift from God to be utilized for the [people’s] welfare and the common good,” the President said.

Under HB 5240, a National Land Use Policy Council, to be headed by the socioeconomic planning chief, will be created to serve as the policy-making body for land use and management.

The Chief Executive also instructed government agencies “to look into and act accordingly” on extreme weather conditions, such as long dry spells, that threaten food production in Mindanao. He said the climate problem in the island “will cut across all classes and all sectors of society and eventually affect the entire country”.

The President again blamed mining operations for “poisoning” farms and the destruction of watersheds, forests and aquatic resources. He said the protection of environment is a “nonnegotiable” policy of his government and not even the P70-billion annual revenue from mining can convince him to think otherwise.

“You have gained much from mining. We only get about P70 billion a year, but you have considerably neglected your responsibility to protect and preserve [the environment],” the President said.

To this, Duterte ordered mining firms to conduct restoration and rehabilitation drives in mining areas, on top of providing health and livelihood assistance to the affected communities.

A self-proclaimed antimining advocate, he said mining has taken too much of a toll on rivers and streams from which fishermen make a living. Duterte added communities in mining areas were reduced to dumpsites after mining operations.

The Chief Executive then warned mining firms to immediately act upon the destruction they wrought on rural places. “You have to come up with a substitute to either spend to restore the virginity of the [natural] resources or I will tax you to death.”

The President also instructed mining firms to declare their correct income and pay their correct taxes, or else, “it will be their undoing and eventual end”. He then ordered local government units to assess mining operations under their watch “without fear or favor”.

Taking a cue from his self-professed leftist tendencies, Duterte said it is high time for the Philippines to industrialize under the context of a growing economy.

“I call on our industrialists, investors [and] commercial barons to put up factories and manufacturing establishments right here in the Philippines to process our raw materials into finished products,” he said.

“At this point in my administration, if possible, we shall put a stop to the extraction and exportation of our mineral resources to foreign nations for processing abroad and importing them back to the Philippines in the form of consumer goods at prices twice or thrice the value of the original raw materials foreign corporations pay for them,” the President added.

National industrialization, which Duterte seems to be talking about, is a primary agenda of progressive groups and is one of the socioeconomic reforms the National Democratic Front is pushing for in the peace table. Under national industrialization, the country will veer away from its purported import-oriented, export-dependent policy.

However, the President said the extraction and utilization of natural resources must not be conducted at the expense of the environment. “Responsible, regulated and sustainable development is what we advocate and require.”

Image credits: AP/Bull it Marquez

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