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21st Annual Symposium of the Mindanao Association of Mining Engineers

13 June 2015

Good morning to all of you! Maayong buntag kaninyong tanan! Assalamu Alaykum!

This particular symposium convened by your professional organizational could not have come at a more opportune time. And I thank you for having invited me to be part of this year’s gathering of responsible mining engineers of Mindanao.

You are all perhaps aware that we in Congress, most especially myself as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Local Government, are presently undertaking this huge task of studying and deliberating on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) as proposed by Malacañang. I beg you to indulge me to speak on this matter of extreme national significance, which, to my mind, is very important to all of us, especially if we are to find ways of overcoming adversities in our particular sector and in our profession.

To put in proper perspective just what exactly it is that we are doing, we as a nation have come to a particular point in our history where we are now renewing our constitutional commitment to peace and development with our brothers and sisters in Muslim Mindanao. And in light of this commitment, are likewise attempting to recalibrate the terms of the grant of autonomy to Muslim Mindanao, which, as of present time, is legally known and legally recognized as the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

One particular area where the ARMM is given autonomy of control and supervision is in the area of “exploration, development, utilization and protection of mines and minerals, and other natural resources within the autonomous region”.

As Engineers of Mines, who have sworn to ethically keep watch over our precious mineral resources especially here in this part of the country, and who, at the same time, also depend on the mining industry for livelihood, you are collectively a distinct set of genuine stakeholders in this national exercise.
And so I am thankful to be given this very valuable opportunity to reach out to your organization, from outside the halls of the Senate, and offer you even just a snapshot of the impact that this proposed legislation bodes not only for your particular sector but for your particular profession as well.

As you know, under the present organic act for the ARMM, embodied in R.A. 9504 of 2001, the ARMM regional government is like a local government unit, but with a special relationship vis-à-vis the national government, on account of the autonomy guaranteed to it by our Constitution. As such, special powers, functions and operational control, not generally granted to and possessed by “ordinary” local governments, are given to and wielded by the ARMM government.

As I mentioned, on the strength of the present grant of powers, the ARMM, in clear terms, already has powers over the exploration, development and utilization (E.D.U.) of natural resources within the ARMM territory, save of course for “strategic minerals”, such as fossil fuels and uranium.

However, to ensure alignment with the State's sovereignty and integrity, this autonomous exercise of power by the ARMM is expressly made subject to the provisions of the “Constitution and existing laws”, foremost of which that come to mind are, of course, the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 (RA 7942) and the People’s Small-Scale Mining Act of 1991 (RA 7076), among others.

In fact, there is also a further important safeguard under the law, which emphasizes that the ARMM “may not lower the standards required by the central government or national government for the protection, conservation, and enhancement of natural resources.”

But the proposed BBL not only makes a more pronounced and more categorical grant of powers to the Bangsamoro government over natural resources within the Bangsamoro territory, the powers granted therein are also wider and more extensive. For example, under the BBL, the Bangsamoro government shall exclusively be in charge of drawing up and formulating its own "policies on mining and other extractive industries" in accordance with its own development plans. Moreover, control and supervision over the E.D.U. of “strategic minerals” within the Bangsamoro territory, such as fossil fuels and uranium, are no longer exclusive and reserved to, but now become a shared power with, the national government.

Unfortunately, however, the draft BBL crucially omits the aforementioned overarching provision under the ARMM law that mandates consistency with the Constitution and existing laws, which provision serves as a mighty check on the exercise of these extensive powers over natural resources by the ARMM.

Thus, considering that under the draft BBL the Bangsamoro legislature both has “authority to enact laws on matters that are within the powers and competencies of the Bangsamoro Government” and the power to formulate its own mining policies, it can then be argued that the Bangsamoro legislature is free to formulate policies and legislate on mining and extractive industries, without having to attune such policies and legislation with the Constitution and existing laws.

All these lead to the apprehension that, in the future, mining legislation and policy, as well as regulation of the mining industry in the Bangsamoro territory, could be at substantial variance or at a disconnect with those of the national government.

Over this particular domain made even freer and with even wider room to operate, the Bangsamoro legislature can thus enact laws that could effectively amend, render inapplicable or even entirely supplant important and relevant mining laws that otherwise apply to the entire country without exception, such as the Mining Act and the People’s Small-Scale Mining Act.

For example, the President or the DENR could be deemed powerless to declare “No-Go zones” within the Bangsamoro territory, such as mineral reservations, protected areas and other areas closed to mining applications. In particular, President Aquino’s Executive Order No. 79 of 2012 could be rendered inapplicable in the Bangsamoro territory, by a single stroke of the pen of the Bangsamoro Parliament. It might also be claimed that the Bangsamoro government is not in anyway bound by the 2012 Responsible Mining Policies of the government or the so-called “Six-point agenda” .

While these are all but speculations, they are nonetheless plausible scenarios owing to the lack of mechanisms that guarantee vertical alignment of policies with the national government, and sure safeguards for consistency with the Constitution and existing laws.

On another note, aside from the mining sector, even the manpower and the human resource of the industry also stand to be affected by the BBL. I am referring to the members of the labor force who earn a living from the mining industry and other industries for that matter within the Bangsamoro territory. More importantly, I am referring to the mining engineers—and the entire sector of professionals, as well—who practice their profession in the Bangsamoro territory.

What will happen to them? What will happen to you?

Under the BBL, the Bangsamoro government shall take over and shall have exclusive control over “labor, employment and occupation” within the Bangsamoro territory. Again, following the logic that I used earlier, the Bangsamoro legislature will be free to pass laws on these subjects to be made effective within its territory, and such laws shall prevail over relevant national laws that are in general application throughout the country, such as the Labor Code of the Philippines (PD 442), the Professional Regulation Commission Act (RA 8981), and others.

As a result, the Bangsamoro government could have a separate Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) that will enforce labor laws, and a separate National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) that will adjudicate the labor claims of employees.

On the side of professionals, the Bangsamoro is also entitled to create a separate Professional Regulatory Commission (PRC) that will regulate the professions and other licensed occupations, including the conduct of board examinations and admission to the practice.

Again, I do not see any institutional framework and mechanisms that would ensure the full range of protection of labor and employment rights. In fact, during our final hearing last Tuesday, the DOLE precisely recommended certain revisions to the draft that would address the gaping deficiencies on this subject.

The same is true with regulation of professions, of which mining engineering is one. There are no mechanisms in the BBL that aim to guarantee the highest possible standards for the ethical practice of professions and for admission thereto. In fact, I am writing to the Professional Regulatory Commission (PRC) next week to precisely seek its opinions and recommendations on how to remedy this particular issue in the BBL.

So all these ruminations serve to pose a threat to the integrity of the mining engineering profession— admission to, continued membership in, and practice of which are being regulated by RA 4274, or the Mining Engineering Law.

The functions and responsibilities of the mining engineer in the industry and in society have stably evolved over the years, and are already quite clear-cut and established, as we speak, thus ensuring the mining engineer’s indispensable role and continued relevance in the industry—not to mention his or her economic potential.

However, the lack of clarity and seamlessness in the transition of power and governance, and in the policy administration and regulation of both the industry and the important profession involved, should trigger a very unsettling feeling not only among the industry participants—ALL OF YOU HERE—but also in the keen and concerned public servant, like me.

Nabalaka kaayo kog daku ma-o man gani nga ako kini tanang gihimo.
(I am very concerned, that is why I am doing all these.)

The mining sector of Mindanao, especially the mining engineers of Mindanao, can be assured that your humble public servant is doing everything to make sure that everyone and all sectors of society are heard and are informed, so that their interests are properly covered and protected. So that in due time, they can, with pride and diligence, exercise a free and intelligent choice in this Herculean task being undertaken by our country.

This, I firmly hope and believe, is my humble contribution not only to successfully ending our country’s continued quest for that seemingly elusive and enigmatic formula for peace, justice and development in Muslim Mindanao, but also to the strengthening of our integrity and unity as one Filipino nation.

There are still lots more to be done in the Senate, especially during this one-and-a-half-month-long
Senate recess, during which we are expected to come up with our findings and prepare the best possible version of the BBL that we can present to our colleagues in the Senate and to the Filipino People for their ultimate ratification.

But whatever happens in the Senate, however your elected representatives and, ultimately, the People decide, mining engineers also have an important role to play in this crucial period in our national history. As licensed professionals bestowed by the State with important privileges and responsibilities in the field of mining, you have sworn, above all, “to maintain allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines, support the Constitution and obey the laws, and to conserve and protect the natural resources of the State, and to promote the development and use of such natural resources for the interest of the people.”

This, I believe, is precisely the particular—and possibly the rarest—point in your careers, where you ought to feel and appreciate the transcendental primacy of your responsibilities to the State, as you had sworn in your Oaths.

Whatever happens, I exhort you to be indispensable and proactive partners in the change. In the event of a transition in governance, act as worthy gatekeepers, conscientiously ensuring that any and all mining policies, legislation and rules sought to be implemented in the region shall likewise guarantee the protection and conservation of our natural resources for the continued benefit of our children, grandchildren and future generations.

Always keep in your minds and hearts your sworn “inter-generational responsibility”. Indeed “responsibility” and “independent judgment” are qualities that are built in your professional duties, and etched in your psyche, as mining engineers.

As I shared with the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry last month, I firmly believe that at the end of the day, the ultimate desire and aspiration of all our kababayans, Muslims or non-Muslims alike, is, in simple terms, “HAYAHAY NGA BUHAY” (magandang buhay)! Better and more fulfilling lives for themselves, for their families and for their posterity.

And this is all the more true for the mining industry workers and professionals, who are known for their legendary “KAYOD-MINERO” brand of work ethic and dedication, in their desire to uplift the quality of life of their families.

We want the mining industry to always be “NIUSWAG UG NILAMBO” (malakas at asensado), and we do not want it to be “PURDOY” (lugi/bankrupt), just as much as we dread the prospect of “WALAY PANGITA” (walang trabaho), especially for the mining engineers of Mindanao.

On our part as elected representatives of the people and public servants, our primordial duty then is to lay the building blocks to enable our people to achieve the better and more fulfilling lives they aspire for.

Maghina-ut kita nga dili lamang ang kalinao ug pagkinaugalingon para sa atong mga igsoon nga Bangsamoro, hasta ang ilang kalambuan ug kauswagan, ug apilan na ang tibuok nasud!

(Hangad ko ay hindi lamang kapayapaan at kasarinlan ng ating mga kapatid sa Bangsamoro, kundi pati na rin ang kanilang kasaganahan at kaunlaran, at ng ating buong bansa.)

Again, you can count on my guaranteed objectivity and fairness and my wholehearted service and assistance to the Filipino people in seeing this to its proper and nationally beneficial conclusion.

Asahan ninyo na gagawin ko ang tama: tama para sa kapayapaan at kaunlaran sa Mindanao; tama para sa bansa; at tama para sa ating kababayan, lalo na para sa buong industriya ng minahan at sa lahat ng mga inhinyero ng mga mina sa Mindanao!

Let me end on that note. Daghan na ko nasturya!
(Marami na akong nakuwento!)

Again, thank you for your invitation, and I hope that everybody had a very meaningful, thought-provoking and productive symposium this year!

Mabuhi ang Mindanao Association of Mining Engineers!

Mabuhi ang Mindanao!

Mabuhi ang makusganon (strong), nagkahiusa ug mauswagong (united and prosperous) Pilipinas!

Daghang salamat ug maayong hapon kaninyong tanan!