It is about time

Frankly speaking, I was pleasantly surprised at the editorial of the Manila Bulletin (MB) last 4 March. I could not believe my eyes when I read the title, “Time to start processing our own raw materials.” How polemical for a sedate, conservative national newspaper that recently celebrated its 117th year of service to the nation.

Apparently, that audacious proposal of “processing our own raw materials” came from the Chamber of Commerce of the Philippine Islands (CCPI), which the editor described as “the oldest business organization in the country.” Established in 1888, a year after Jose Rizal published his seditious novel, Noli Me Tangere, it predates the MB by only a dozen years. The CCPI’s original name was in Spanish, Cámara de Comercio de las Islas Filipinas. Today, it holds office in a handsome heritage building in Intramuros, decorated with three plaques from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines.

In the past, attempts to process one’s own raw materials, whether agricultural or mineral, or to nationalize those in the clutches of foreign interests were the most perilous measures a progressive leader of an “underdeveloped country” could take. Governments with such nationalistic propensities were ruthlessly overthrown by foreign vested interests and replaced by “friendly” dictatorships that would protect the unbridled extraction of copper, gold, and iron ore; tamper with a United Fruits plantation and you’ll become a Banana Republic.

Better late than never, the CCPI maintains that instead of exporting our natural resources in their raw form, the Philippines must start processing and sell manufactured products to both domestic and international markets. Their proposal hark back to the 1950’s, when Filipino enterprises met the challenges of those dismal post-WWII days. My mother and her colleagues used to have endless discussions about precisely that subject; enthusiastically they wrote daily essays in support of local manufacturers. Instead of exporting copra or sugar, cacao, iron ore, wood, etc., and buying back products manufactured from these raw materials, we should do our own processing and manufacturing. While buying groceries, my mother always patronized locally made products; lamentably, there were so much more then than now.

The CCPI is concerned about the virulent dispute between Secretary Gina Lopez (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) and the mining companies. Yesterday, she was supposed to be the guest speaker of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) but the event was cancelled because there would be no representative from the mining sector. Serious about fulfilling her job description, Sec. Lopez has ordered the closure of 23 mines and cancelled 75 mining permits; she is mandated to protect our watersheds and the environment even if that redounds to loss of economic gains and revenue for the national government. However, the CCPI is convinced that by processing ore and adding value to our mineral resources, jobs will increase too much more than the 1.2 million mining companies brag about. The MB editorial said an inter-agency Mining Industry Coordinating Council is trying ”to balance the clashing concerns” of the DENR secretary and the mining investors.

I hope the timely proposal of the CCPI is not lost in this imbroglio. Should President R. Duterte’s government approve, Congress can be persuaded to amend the 1985 Mining Act. That will be a modest but purposeful step towards industrialization. It is about time.