I am not sure if Dr Seuss would appreciate my hijacking of his famous alphabet rhyme but in this case, the big M stands for corporate mines currently being persecuted by Ms Lopez, while little M is the small-scale mining industry that has, so far escaped her draconian crackdown. But why?

After all, there are an estimated 500,000 small-scale miners operating in more than 30 provinces and unregulated small scale mining may have a more disastrous effect, both in terms of human life and ecological damage, than large commercial mines, simply because small scale miners do not feel obligated or pressured to comply with the strict environmental
laws the large scale operations abide by.

Perhaps it’s far easier to go for the big targets because they cannot easily melt away into the night when local officials come calling.

As the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines Chairman Artemio Disini said. “What is ironic is the Secretary-designate has trained her guns on the legitimate operations, while turning a blind eye to un-permitted, undocumented, non-taxpaying and non-compliant mining operations who are the real violators of environment.”

He is right, because the favoured extraction method adopted by small scale miners is sluice mining – a form of high water pressure extraction that is considered the most destructive and most dangerous. How many rivers have been declared dead, their water polluted and laden with toxic materials from these unregulated mini mining activities?

Even if a mere fraction of the estimated half a million small mines are doing this, it adds up to an environmental impact far greater than that made by the big boys.

Could it be because large corporate mines are an easy target? According to Roberto R Romulo of The Philippine Star “Corruption and manipulation of the law has rendered national agencies such as the DENR helpless in regulating and monitoring small-scale mining operations, as provincial mining and regulatory bodies often become rubber-stamp institutions
of local politicians in cahoots with the mining companies.”

Mr Romulo’s comment is born out by information that suggests mining and environmental regulations for small-scale mines, including a March 2015 ban on mercury use and underwater mining, have gone unenforced, despite the government’s promise to reduce mercury and to make mining beneficial for the population.

So is Ms Lopez’s crusade merely an example of ‘gesture’ politics? A bout of ‘virtue signaling’ to show how green she is by targeting obvious scapegoats whilst quietly leaving the little guy to despoil the natural world she claims to love?

Maybe she should look to New York’s ex-mayor Rudy Giuliani for inspiration when, in reference to the Broken Windows theory, he said “If you want to change big things, you pay attention to small things.”

The Broken Windows theory was the catalyst for solving the city’s crime wave in the 80’s and 90’s. The administration had been focusing on major crimes, like murder, and overlooking smaller crimes along the way. But it wasn’t working. So the city started going after overlooked petty crime. The result? All crime rates fell suddenly and continued to drop for the next ten
years.

Perhaps it’s time for Ms Lopez to start fixing some broken windows of her own.

Photo by Lachlan on Unsplash