Sec. Gina Lopez and the mining industry

 

DENR Secretary Gina Lopez

We all know that President Rodrigo Duterte appointed Ms. Gina Lopez as Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on the strength of her intensely passionate and unwavering advocacy for green or eco-friendly environment.

No one can ever question her resolve in protecting the environment and in so doing making it clean and friendly to the people. We have seen her zeal and devotion when she served as chairperson of Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission and her involvement in Bantay Kalikasan (Nature Watch) which was launched as a response to the worsening state of the environment, especially in Metro Manila.

While many appreciate the idealism of Lopez for the environment, the same morals or philosophy, if you may, when applied to the mining companies in the country should have been tempered with greater understanding and rationality.

I am saying this because Lopez is now at the receiving end of the wrath expressed by some mining officials whose company was targeted for closure and/or suspension of operation for the reason that it has been causing havoc to the environment.

That Lopez has been the subject of displeasure and indignation by the mining companies, which is even affecting her confirmation as DENR secretary, is only fair and par for the course because its mining operation should have been vetted first on the context on whether or not they are International Standards Organization (ISO) compliant.

This should have been the due process extended to the mining companies instead of shutting them down unceremoniously.

There is no doubt Lopez knows about the ISO certification because she herself stated the following upon assuming the position from former DENR Secretary Ramon Paje: “ISO 14001 is one way of saying responsible mining.”

The ISO 14001 standard is the most important within the ISO 14000 series. ISO 14001 specifies the requirements of an environmental management system (EMS) for small to large organizations. An EMS is a systemic approach to handling environmental issues within an organization.

Lopez further added that the assessment will determine if mining operations are “… good to the people or are they killing the rivers, streams? Are they creating suffering to our farmers and fishermen? We have to evaluate it, but my stand on the common good is non-negotiable.”

The “non-negotiable” stand of Lopez can be likened to the shit hitting the fan!

This hardline policy/posturing of Lopez just won’t work especially if the mining industries earn billions of pesos for the country, creates job for the people in the community and contribute to the infrastructure needs of the community.

Personal or subjective opinion should never play a rule in this kind of controversial problems especially if it has to do with the economy, jobs, lives of employed workers, and yes, the environment. The benefits gained should not be held hostage just because the whim and caprice of a popular DENR Secretary is not accommodated.

To compromise is the way to go so it will not create a negative impact on all factors considered for a win-win situation could only be attained if a review of the ISO standards is done regularly by DENR so that anomalies can be corrected to help minimize the potential present and long term damage to the environment from mining activities.

 

Ballpoint in pens now made in China

 

ballpoint-penChina has been dumping its multifarious manufactured goods, from the mundane to the complex items, all over the world that you would think there is nothing that the world’s industrial and economic giant cannot produce. Right?

Wrong!

Apparently, the world’s largest manufacturer of ballpoint pens never succeeded in producing its own ballpoint, a vital component in a pen, until now. And to think that China manufactures 80% of the world’s ballpoint pens!

So, where, then, was China’s ballpoint pen makers getting the delicate tips for the variety of pens it was making and exporting to the countries of the world?

Admittedly, the delicate balls used were imported from Switzerland.

But, not anymore according to state-owned steel firm Taiyuan Iron & Steel which has announced its Eureka moment!

So why did a country renowned for ingeniously replicating technology struggle to create an everyday item for so long?

According to the firm, it did not have machines with the precision needed to cut a tiny ball-bearing accurately.

Also, it explained that despite being the world’s largest steel producer, China was unable to produce the high quality steel to case the ink-dispensing ball, resulting in the steel being imported from Germany or Japan.

The problem of the imperfect balls was brought to fore when Chinese Premier Li Keqiang complained on national TV that the country’s pens were “rough” in comparison with their Japanese, German and Swiss counterparts.

His comments led the Hong Kong Economic Journal to declare: “The day China can produce a 100% homemade ball pen will be the day it truly qualifies as a first-class industrial power.”

Well, it sure has been, but more so now and China is hoping to phase out pen tip imports completely within the next two years.

Digestive tract of goats/sheep could lead to better biofuels

goatsThis is one scientific research that really caught my eye.

At this time when the world is talking about alternative fuel this study could not have come at a very opportune time.

It is not that biofuels – fuels produced directly or indirectly from organic material (biomass) including plant materials and animal waste – are non-existent because for a long time now they are being converted into bioenergy, after applying more advanced conversion technologies.

The problem with biofuels, however, is that not only are they produced from crops, such as maize, which impacts the lives of the poor because its being used as a fuel instead of food limits the supply and drive up prices, but, so far, the ability to efficiently use the vast majority of cheap, waste organic material has eluded the makers of biofuels.

The study says that the problem with turning wood chips and grasses into fuel is the matrix of complex molecules found in the cell walls of these tough materials.

Industrial attempts to break these down into the type of sugars that can be refined for fuel often require preheating or treatment with chemicals, which add to the complexity and the cost.

To solve the problem, researchers have turned to the well-known abilities of goats and sheep to digest almost anything they eat.

Researchers believe this facility is the result of the presence of anaerobic gut fungi, organisms that have existed since the time of the dinosaurs.

To test their ideas, the scientists collected fresh manure from a zoo and a stable and isolated three previously uncharacterized cultures from goats, sheep and horses.

They found that these fungi excrete enzymes that break down a wide range of plant material.

Unlike the best genetically engineered enzymes produced by the biofuel industry to date, they discovered that the sheep and goat fungi produced many hundred more of these proteins.

The scientists say that in tests, the fungi performed as well as the best engineered attempts from industry.

Reportedly, the study has been published in the journal, Science.

Illegal fishing and the tuna industry

 

Duterte-Cayetano tandem

Duterte-Cayetano tandem

I would like to correct the misconception that perhaps the presidential tandem of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and Senator Alan Cayetno have when they visited General Santos City, a known mecca for tuna, presenting their platform of government before the province’s officials where, among other things, they vowed “to crack down on illegal fishing and promised to go after illegal fishermen in Mindanao to protect its tuna industry”.

Well, actually these are two separate and distinct concerns and they should be able to distinguish one from the other so they would sound credible and not trying to be authorities on the subject.

It does not mean to say that if they will go after illegal fishing or what we describe as destructive fishing practices, the tuna industry will also be protected.

There is no such thing as illegal fishing or destructive fishing when it comes to catching tuna for first and foremost tuna is a fast-swimming, migratory pelagic fish, thus, its sleek and streamlined body. Because of people’s appetite for its meat, tuna has become an important commercial fish and its number being carefully monitored by the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) due to over-fishing, but not illegal fishing.

Illegal fishing or destructive fishing not only catches unwanted fish but what it does outrageously wrong is that it also destroys the habitat or marine environment where fish find food and shelter, even in the form of ancient corals.

The destructive fishing practices we have heard of and familiar about are the use of explosives, the use of poison and what is called bottom trawling.

Bottom trawling concept

Bottom trawling concept

Bottom trawling is an industrial method which uses enormous nets weighed down with heavy ballast which are dragged along the sea floor, raking up or crushing everything in their way from fish to new and old coral formations.

The extent of the damage of the sea floor depends on how big the trawler is and how better equipped it is. Clearly, the larger and more sophisticated the boat is, the more devastating the impact of illegal fishing techniques.

Many species, including those at risk of extinction, are accidentally caught and then thrown back into the sea, often already dead. These collateral losses, known as discards, can reach up to 80% or even 90% of the total catch.

Bottom trawling also churns up sediment (sometimes toxic), creating turbid water inhospitable to life. This type of fishing obliterates the natural environmental features where marine animals would normally live, rest and hide.

Tuna, on the other hand, takes a lull on their migration when they find some floating logs or purposely installed fish aggregating device called “payaw” in the middle of the sea, which gives artificial sanctuary to small fishes that attracts bigger fishes and later the much larger fishes like the tuna for what is known as a food chain reaction.

It used to be that fishermen moored their pump boats to the “payaws”, usually made of piled and tied bamboo poles, which together is weighted down to the seafloor for it to stay in place and fish tuna with hook and line.

There was then an abundance of tuna, but with the development of purse-seine nets that comes bigger and bigger depending on the size and sophistication of the purse-seine vessels, over-fishing of tuna is happening as enormous catches are being made in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea.

Some business people are in fact into tuna farming already to counter the over-fishing happening in the high seas.

Rail transport and power shortage woes are Philippines daunting problems

MRTIsn’t it very ironic that the Philippines, considered as one of the better economic performers in Southeast Asia, continues to be plague with rail transport and power shortage woes?

Where has government failed? Do we have the right people running the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) and the Department of Energy (DOE)?

We may be doing the right strategy in the manufacturing, agricultural, trade, finance, and real estate sectors, in tourism and in business process outsourcing (BPO) and others, but why is government so irresponsible and remiss in preventing rail transport and power shortage woes?

It is very much appreciated by the citizenry, in general, that government is implementing reforms to reduce cost of doing business in the country and perhaps be more competitive in the export markets, but how could the country maximize its potential, not just in sustaining, but in developing and improving further its growth if government can’t provide adequate, fast, safe and cheap mass transport system for Filipinos going to work?

For that matter, how could offices and business establishments perform efficiently and productively if power problem exists, especially during summer?

How can we be persuasively effective in luring investors to do business in the country if we don’t have what its takes to assist them in running their businesses efficaciously on a long term basis?

Since I am specifically mentioning these two government agencies that are important for bringing success to an undertaking, my point simply is that whoever is in charge should exercise competence and professionalism in the their jobs.

Being reactive to problems in their respective departments is the worst attitude that can be shown. To plan and think ahead, to anticipate and be proactive in dealing with what could bring services and other utilities down resulting to adverse consequences is not only a necessity but must be a priority to consider.

I am sure studies have been made and budgets prepared reflecting the increasing demand of these utilities not only brought about by population growth, but also by the favorable business opportunity because of the much touted economic growth the country is experiencing, but most likely improvement and upgrading are always deferred to some time in the future, until not much can be done about it anymore.

But I think the politicians in this country have other concerns and priorities that they themselves are partly to blame for the inadequacies of the rail transport and power sector for not looking closely into their operational capacity and capability sooner than later.

Look where we are now with the Manila Rail Transit (MRT) and Light Rail Transit (LRT), and even the Philippine National Railways (PNR).

Their hobbled operation that has been causing major accidents and endangering the lives of the riding public because of poor maintenance of the railways and the railcars simply reflects how poorly the rail transport system has been managed. It is bad enough that it is old and dilapidated, with some railcars having been decommissioned, thus reducing the riding space of the countless passengers taking it daily, but its condition could only become worse if no appropriate maintenance is regularly practiced.

And yet management has the gall to ask for fare increase! Where is the logic for a fare increase if nothing changes but will only continue the woes of the riding public instead of alleviating them?

brownoutAnother daunting problem published lately is that an electricity shortfall looms as a serious problem for the Philippines, where growth in generating capacity is not keeping pace with demand. Rolling blackouts may be implemented on the largest island of Luzon this year.

Definitely that is nothing new to those living and doing business in Mindanao.

Government must act on distressful state of MRT-3

mrtIf the different mishap shown on prime TV news involving the country’s Metro Rail Transit-3 (MRT-3) has not jolted the Aquino government, specifically the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC), from taking drastic corrective measures before lives are lost, hopefully the report made by experts from Mass Transit Railway Hong Kong (MTR HK) on the condition of MRT-3 will.

It is more of a chilling report on how poor management in operations and maintenance is endangering the lives of commuters availing the transport system.

The DOTC cannot simply wash their hands for the distressful state of MRT-3 for their negligence is what the report is all about. Not only have they compromise safety but in their laxity and inattentiveness to the needs of the system, they have readily and steadily shortened its expected lifespan.

To better appreciate the disturbing report, let me just cite some observations MTR HK made, as published:

MTR Hong Kong noted that the condition of the tracks is “most alarming and requires immediate attention.”

“A broken rail is a serious threat to the safe operation of a railway. It can potentially case train derailment resulting in substantial casualties in a high usage system like MRT-3.”

“Track condition is found to be in poor and unacceptable condition to allow continuous safe operations of the railway.”

The observations above seem to focus only on the rail and for a reason because that is what keeps the train on track running safely even at high speed.

Suffice to say that what the MTR HK team has found is that the pathetic condition of the country’s MRT-3 is because of DOTC officials’ inadequacy and inattentiveness, if not total ignorance towards: asset management and rail operations management in general, which includes maintenance programs for both carriage and railways, personnel training programs and safety programs. All these could prolong the life of the metro system making it even more profitable. But, its downfall could only be attributed to the indifference and lack of professionalism by people entrusted by no less than President Aquino to keep the metro transport running and in top shape and the riding public safe at all times.

This brings to fore the question that is in most people’s mind: Should MRT continue to be run by government or should a private entity be chosen to manage it?

Animal cruelty during transport

(Caricature by Sunstar, Cebu)

This is simply a reaction to an article titled, ‘Animal cruelty can lead to fines’, published in Sunstar Cebu, dated, November 25, 2014.

I am not questioning about how the Department of Agriculture was able to come up with the hefty figure of P250,000 as penalty for those transporting animals inside cramped trucks or cages.

But what I want to bring out here is how to treat animals humanely when transporting them on trucks to destinations where they will end up being slaughtered.

Since the article mentioned above carried with it a caricature depicting helpless pigs cramped inside a cage on top of a truck driven by a maniacal driver with a sadistic-looking helper beside him, I presume that the concern was more directed to pigs/hogs more than any other animal, small or big, and for a reason, because almost always the mortality is high and costly in transported hogs because of its physical attributes.

Let us just remember that from the time they are born until they reach the slaughtering age, the hogs have always enjoyed the comforts accorded them inside the piggery farm. They are confined in pigpens where they do nothing but eat, drink, defecate, sleep and being doused with water by piggery attendants. They are not being shouted at. In fact other piggeries have soothing music playing. Suffice to say that the pigs are in an environment where they are not subjected to any stress whatsoever so that they can grow and gain weight corresponding to their age, as that is what the bottom line is in raising hogs.

It is when hogs come to age for slaughter that trouble starts. They are being yelled at and beaten to move faster on their way single file to the weighing scale, and even when prodded to march towards the back of a waiting truck that will transport them to wherever they have been sold to.

The more they are packed on the truck is, in fact, advantageous because that will prevent them from moving and/or sliding on the floor of the truck. Normally, the pigs are full because that is what the business dictates – sell, weigh and load them in full stomach. So, in effect, what happens is that all the way to its destination the pigs won’t stop urinating and defecating until the floor becomes slippery and dangerous.

The humane treatment comes when, depending on the weather, the driver and his helper decides to provide the truck a rooftop or not. They should also carry with them a barrel full of water so they could stop every now and then to refresh the hogs during the trip. Note that this will make the floor of the truck even wetter, but dousing the pigs with water, especially in long distances and in hot weather, is a necessary evil.

But, most of all what is important is that the driver should not drive the truck like a maniac so the pigs will not be bumping hard and falling one on top of the other, if only to prevent further meat bruises. In fact, the worse that could happen is when they slide or fall and split their hind legs and could not stand up anymore. This is a pitiful sight where almost always the pig suffers an early death.

Perhaps, this is where and when the heavy penalty fine should be meted.