A most formidable foe

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A most formidable foe

I DIDN’T want to use the word “foe” anywhere in this piece because the word has a connotation that for me is too antagonistic.

But thinking about the history between the mining industry and the DENR secretary-designate, maybe no word can be more appropriate.

Prior to her accepting the invitation given by the then-President-elect Duterte at a self-confessed state of exasperation, the present DENR secretary-designate was an out and out foe of the mining industry, repeating at every opportunity she can find that mining destroys the environment and that there is no such thing as responsible mining.

And because she was a member of the elite Lopez family that made its money from sugar and media -- and the influence both businesses gave them through the years with the exception of 1972-1986 -- she had in her back pocket that ace card which is the family media empire whose pronouncements are considered close to God’s word by many among its followers and viewers.

So when you get savaged in a news report or a commentary on TV or radio, you will almost always have to pick up the pieces of your reputation as they lie on the floor.

Mind you the savaging can be done either openly or subtly. And usually the subtle way is the more effective way.

Especially if it is done under the guise of responsible news reporting, which dulls the minds of the viewers and conceals from them any bias or case of conflicting interest.

But more about that later.

Thinking about it, however, I have come to a personal conclusion that what makes the DENR secretary-designate a formidable foe to anyone is the simple fact she is a Lopez.

As a Lopez -- and thus a member of the Philippines’ “elitest of the elite” - she can say anything and be taken seriously, crack any joke and be found funny.

And as a Lopez -- and thus heir to part of the mega media empire -- she can say anything and be supported by an array of tv and radio broadcasters all over the country. Whether they believe her or not. Whatever they think of her causes.

Had she NOT been a Lopez -- had she been from a simple family like the Montanez of Hinatuan -- she would have been ignored long ago, her jokes falling flat, her pronouncements seen sometimes as “far out”.

If not in fact “spaced out”.

Contrast her to Rosalia (or Rosie) Montanez.

Rosie is a barangay health worker in Talavera, an island barangay of Tagana-an Town, Surigao Del Norte. Across a narrow strait from Talavera is Hinatuan island where Hinatuan Mining Corporation operates.

Rosie is also a PWD; she suffers some kind of deformity on both feet which makes her walk as if she were on tiptoe.

She confesses she was unable to go beyond high school. Her husband is a part time fisherman. Her children are scholars.

Like the DENR sec-designate she is passionate about the environment. She was anti-mining when she felt that mining would damage the ecology. But unlike the Sec-designate she changed her mind when she came face to face with responsible mining practices that have benefited the environment and her community. And now she is alarmed that because the Secretary-designate is in a position to convert her deeply held anti mining biases into policies, whatever betterment in life Rosie has seen through the years will go down the drain.

Recently she spoke before a roomful of suites - members of the PCCI. With a confidence and conviction that surprised everyone else in the hall, myself included, she took apart some of the arguments that the DENR sec designate has voiced as reasons for closing mines.

This is what she said:

“Yung nagproklama si Mrs Gina Lopez yung pinapapakita niya sa TV po na nakakalbo napo yung company. Yes, totoo yun nakakalbo naman talaga Dahil yung time na yun diyan pa nagooperate yung mining pero di niya nakikita yung nirerehab na hindi na inooperetan yungnakikita lang po niya is yung inooperatan sa ngayon. Papaano naman niyo irerehab na nagooperate naman dun ang company?”

On allegations that the mining firms pollute the seas , Rosie had this to say:

“Tapos po yung nakikita niya yung dagat na kulay brown? Yes, totoo naman po yun kahit naman wala pong mina, wala pa pong minahan diyan, pag umuulan talaga magkukulay brown talagayung dagat na yun. Dahil yung tubig na galing sa bundok, pababa, papuntang dagat.”

She added this:

“Tapos yung sasabihin niya na yung mangingisda sa amin hindina makakuha dahil sa company? No, mali po yun. Hindi po yung company ang nakasira ng dagat namin. Kung di yung Isang mangingisda na hindi naman po kami nakikinabang. Yung Isang mangingisda na tinatawag po dun sa amin na liba-liba...”

She closed this way:

“Samantala yung company, nakikinabang kami kahit nakakalbo, nakikinabang naman kami. na nabubuhay naman yung pamilyanamin. Nakapagaral ng maayos ang mga anak namin. Angimportante lang naman lang po sa amin yung mga anak namin. Kahit hindi na sa amin, dahil kami sanay sa hirap pero yung mgaanak namin, buhat nagkaroon ng Hinatuan Mining Corporation, hindi naranasan ng mga anak namin ang buhay namin noon. Kaya naglakas loob kami pumunta dito, tatlo po kami, may dalawa pa hong kasamahan na nandito para sasagutin naming yung mga katanungan niyo kung ano man yung mga katanunganniyo sa amin. Maraming salamat po.”

See that very short part when she says “nakikinabang kami kahit nakakalbo nakikinabang naman kami”? Thats the only part of her statement that ANC, otherwise known as the ABS-CBN News Channel, quoted in their report.

Just that.

And that’s what makes the DENR secretary-designate a formidable foe. Against her you come up against irresponsible and biased reporting of the most powerful media empire this country has ever known. One that has made and unmade presidents and other politicians.

And yet against such a formidable foe a Rosie Montanez seeks to speak out.

Even if it means having her words twisted by the powerful.