O&G advocacy series: Consensus in decision-making
Renato Banas speaks with LCPS about a collaborative effort to monitor extractive industries in the Philippines
As part of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies’ ongoing effort to monitor Lebanon’s oil and gas sector, LCPS is inviting representatives of NGOs from across the world to offer their input about similar endeavors in other countries. In the Philippines a unique organization, Bantay Kita, has taken on the role of watchdog over the country’s extractive industries. As a collective comprising 47 organizations, Bantay Kita must work based on consensus among its members. LCPS interviewed Mr. Renato Banas from the Negros Organic Agriculture Movement (NOAM), a member organization of Bantay Kita, to gain further insight into the coalition’s work and how it functions.
1. Why was Bantay Kita founded and what do different members of the coalition specialize in?
Bantay Kita was founded after the Philippine Mining Act was passed by congress in 1995. The legislation was met with opposition by NGOs who opposed further degradation of the environment and the displacement of indigenous peoples whose ancestral homes were being targeted for mining operations. Some groups questioned the constitutionality of the mining act because it allows for foreign ownership of mining operations beyond 40%, the limit stipulated by the Philippine Constitution of 1987. Unfortunately, the supreme court upheld the constitutionality of the Philippine Mining Act, paving the way for the entry of many foreign mining firms.
While some NGOs continued their campaign to ban mining and/or push for the passage of an alternative mining bill, others opted for monitoring the operations of mining firms to ensure that they comply with the terms of permits granted to them by the Philippine government. Following the adoption of EITI, and with the help of Publish What You Pay and Revenue Watch, Bantay Kita was formalized and its membership expanded to include NGOs from across the country.
2. What is the specific nature of your work on extractive industries? Which point in the value chain of the sector does your coalition focus on?
The primary function of Bantay Kita is to monitor revenues paid by extractive industries, revenues received by government institutions, and how these are used to benefit the people, especially those affected by the operation of these industries. Bantay Kita also monitors the extent to which extractive industry operations comply with legal provisions. Hence, the involvement of Bantay Kita begins with the application for mining claims and ends at the rehabilitation of mining sites.
3. Can you please tell us more about your coalition’s overall strategy to push for transparency and accountability in extractive industries? What techniques are you using?
As a non-government entity, Bantay Kita cannot compel extractive industries to divulge information. However, as the NGO representative to the multi-stakeholders group (MSG) of EITI-Philippines, Bantay Kita uses this to exert pressure on the government and industry representatives in the MSG for greater transparency by extractive industries.
Bantay Kita also uses the mass media and social media to expose violations of the mining law and other related rules and regulations, as well as non-compliance by some firms with EITI requirements. At present Bantay Kita focuses on research, but perhaps someday it will have the resources to do community outreach.
4. How well are the organizations in your coalition able to work with and coordinate with one other?
Admittedly, Bantay Kita is still in its infancy stage. Membership remains fluid as new entities are brought in while others have been inactive for various reasons. But membership expansion is a priority.
To facilitate coordination, as well as the flow of information, Bantay Kita is organized according to sub-national groupings. This is meant to allow for focusing on local concerns without having to focus on political subdivisions. The sub-national grouping also provides locals who otherwise are constrained to attend national and regional gatherings greater opportunity to participate in discussions about issues that impact on their lives and communities.
5. To what extent have you been able to influence policy and what challenges have you faced in trying to influence policy? How would you describe your working relationship with the government?
It is difficult to measure the extent to which Bantay Kita has been able to influence policy formulation. But the fact that Bantay Kita is part of the MSG is significant. One of the major challenges for Bantay Kita is the seemingly soft treatment by the government of erring extractive industries.
Conflict with the government is unavoidable but Bantay Kita was able to exert pressure on the national government to take a more firm stand on extractive industries after CSOs threatened to not endorse a national report to EITI. Bantay Kita has also been able to network with various groups to enhance the capability of its members through training, publications, and participation in local and international conferences.
6. Based on the lessons you have learned, what would be your advice to civil society activists that are looking to form a coalition to monitor the oil and gas sector in Lebanon?
The formation of an MSG is most helpful. We also avoid, if not shun, dividing the house. Instead, we go for consensus in decision making but we do not discourage individual members from taking positions that the coalition cannot. For instance, some members of Bantay Kita proposed that it sign a petition to abrogate the Philippine mining law. In the end, Bantay Kita’s board agreed not to sign but also said it would not oppose individual members doing so.