Getting personal

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Getting personal

By Jose Bayani Baylon

May 19, 2017

AS mentioned in my previous column, today’s generation of Filipinos who are in their 15s-to early 20s are no longer newspaper readers and instead, almost to a man, users of digital media which has become their main (if not sole) source of information.

The good thing is they do not contribute to the deforestation that is necessary to produce paper on which to print the dailies, nor do they end up with soiled fingers from the ink used in the printing.

The bad thing is it is harder to discern from online sources which is real news and which is fake news, and it is also much harder to go after purveyors of fake news online than it is to sue a newspaper for malicious reporting. 

Now which of the two poses a bigger problem to society?

Feeling Millennial, I also take to online sources of information to spice up my day. While I make it a point to at least scan the headlines of the printed form of newspapers, and hold up one or two front pages when a headline grabs me, I do make it a point to go to the websites of a number of news outlets both local and foreign to give me my daily dose of my view on the world. And then of course there is Facebook and the updates you can get on your timeline. Some friends are great sources of links to news reports that are truly worth following, while others are great sources of personal advocacies that are interesting to track.

One of the latter are the FB posts of former DENR secretary Gina Lopez, who seems even more productive and far more passionate now in posts about her advocacy. After her rejection by the Commission on Appointments she has continued to pepper Facebook with videoclips of herself on trips to areas where irresponsible mining has created issues. These clips include testimonies from people who claim to be directly affected, men women and children even, testimonies about how their lives are now endangered. And then Madam Gina comes along, fist waving and challenging the “greedy miners” to “prove it”…I think her most passionate – and personal -- challenges of late have been directed at Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez who Gina Lopez has seen as her Public Enemy Number One

(Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea is Number Two!) and a major reason why she failed to get the confirmation she so earnestly desired.

She has linked Dominguez to the Tampakan copper and gold project in South Cotabato, currently suspended, which anti-mining advocates claim will damage a considerable area of watershed in four towns in four provinces covered by the 10,000 hectare copper field.

When she was DENR secretary, Lopez refused to give the project a green light saying she was subjecting it to the “law of the common good”. As she is often wont to do, Madam takes mining in Tampakan at its worst.

The Madam’s attacks on Dominguez gave me pause; is she right in getting personal? I fear that the Madam is risking a lot by doing so.

She is attacking him as if he still has a direct and pecuniary interest in mining, which opens her up to attacks as if she has a direct and pecuniary interest in the Lopez-owned businesses. And frankly, at this point, what should worry Madam Gina is not any interest she may have in the renewable energy businesses of her family, but in ABS-CBN.

Yes, ABS-CBN.

You see, one way to become a real advocate for the environment is to pick up from where the current Pope, Pope Francis, has left off. And that is his encyclical, Laudato Si which he released about two years ago. It was an encyclical that many environmentalists – especially those focused on mining -- were waiting for with bated breath; but it was noticeable to me that when it was issued their reactions were muted.

The reason is obvious when you read the document, which has 246 numbered paragraphs. In those 246 numbered paragraphs , the Pope criticized mining only once. On paragraph 51 I think it was, when His Holiness lamented the use of mercury in gold mining that seeps into the water table and poisons it. Mercury is often used in small scale, usually illegal mining, the artisanal kind that many environmentalists hail as the better alternative to large scale!

So the Papal document that so many people hoped to be a condemnation of the degradation of the earth’s environment due to mining turned out to be not that.

Instead, the Pope mentions consumerism more than 30 times, lamenting it as “wasteful” or “shameful”, the type of attitude that encourages the purchase of items that people don’t really need for wants that are artificially created. According to Laudato Si, it is this consumerist mindset that is at the root of the pollution that is in turn speeding up Climate Change in the world today. And how are these wants created? By the combined forces of the market and media! 

Interestingly, in 2015, the year before the national elections, ABS CBN reported advertising revenues of P21 Billion. No mining firm reported revenues of that size. I can only wonder how much larger the network’s advertising revenues were last year!

As for damage caused? Let’s take both Tampakan and ABS-CBN at their worst.

If we think of the Tampakan project in the worst possible light, the Tampakan project covers 10,000 hectares and could impact the lives of the people in the four towns in that area. Let’s say each town had 30,000 residents; that’s 120,000 people. Even if we double the impact, that’s 240,000 people directly affected by Tampakan, in a worst-case scenario, covering an area that is 10,000 hectares in size -- or even say 20,000 -- in a country of 100 million people spread out over 30 Million hectares.

In contrast: if we think of ABS-CBN in the worst possible light, ask yourself: how many lives are directly affected by ABS-CBN’s consumerist-oriented programming? And daily? Millions. Nationwide at that. Millions nationwide who everyday see the TV commercials that bring billions to the network, commercials which in turn feed the mindset of people to buy things they don’t need for wants that are artificially created. 

The resulting damage to the environment can’t compare. 

Lesson learned: people living in glass houses should be very careful about getting personal. Because if the Madam were to be true to her advocacy maybe she should be stoning the House of Lopez first, and with Papal blessings!