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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Mining audit results questioned

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A LAWMAKER on Sunday accused Undersecretary Leo Jasareno of granting special favors to some mining companies that were not ordered closed or suspended for violating environmental laws, while an industry association urged the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources to release the results of its audit.

Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers on Sunday challenged DENR Secretary Gina Lopez to justify Jasareno’s appointment as the leader of the audit team.

Barbers also questioned Jasareno’s findings, which resulted in the closure of 23 big mining companies and the suspension of several others.

“How about those mining companies which were not closed and whose owners were known friends of Mr. Jasareno?” Barbers asked.

He said supposed violations of the involved mining firms took place when Jasareno was the head of the DENR’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau.

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“I suspect Secretary Lopez could have been fooled by Mr. Jasareno,” he said.

“He is not an innocent bystander in this masquerade.  He is the protagonist. His MGB was

Supposed to police the mining activities in the country, but now he is saying that these companies committed environmental violations. Such hypocrisy coming from the one who was supposed to ensure that mining laws are followed and implemented,” Barbers said.

Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers. AFP

He said Jasareno already knew about  the violations of many mining companies under his watch, but deliberately turned a blind eye to these.

“There should be no selective prosecution here. The investigation should cover everything,” he said.

He called on Lopez to investigate Jasareno if she is sincere about reforming the department and wiping out corruption.

Earlier,  Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay sought a probe of the closure of 23 mining companies and the suspension of five others for, saying the action was “illegal and arbitrary.”

The closures would lose billions of pesos in government revenues, he added.

The Philippine Mine Safety and Environment Association on Sunday urged the DENR to disclose the results of the mining audit. 

“In the spirit of transparency and due process, the PMSEA exhorts the DENR to release the results of the mining audit to clear any doubts and air of suspicion,” said PMSEA president Louie Sarmiento. 

Lopez earlier said of the 41 metallic mines in the country, only 12 passed the mining audit.  It said 23 would be closed down and five would be suspended.

Mining companies, however, said the the government could not just shut down mining operations without due process.

Members of PMSEA noted that the audit review findings were first made known through a press conference. 

“It appears that full details of the results of the mining audit have yet to be furnished to the concerned companies,” Sarmiento said. 

“The closures and suspensions, if affirmed, will have far reaching effect especially in mining communities that plays host to these mines”•employees and their dependents, contractors and mine-dependent small businesses will be the biggest losers,” said Sarmiento. 

Lopez, however, said that due process was observed in the mining audit. The DENR chief said technical experts from different government offices were invited to conduct the audit and all observed the standards of truth, service and the common good. 

“This means they know what they are doing and have followed the due legal process that needs to be done,” Lopez said. 

“We based the checklist of the criteria for the audit on the items in compliance with the different mining and environmental laws. A cross-audit was also done, which means that the auditors who reviewed one site, have come from a different region,” she said.

Lopez said mining companies were given time to respond to the results of the audit. 

“My issue here is not about mining. My issue here is social justice “ Lopez said.

“We assure the industry and the general public that due process was meticulously observed in the mining audit conducted by the agency and that the results would be always anchored on integrity, social justice and the common good,” she said.

The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines said some 1.2-million direct, indirect and induced jobs were at risk as a result of the DENR order. The government also stands to lose about P16.7-billion taxes annually once the 23 mining companies were closed down and five others  suspended.

“The mining industry is found to have a multiplier effect of at least four depending on the location of the operations,” chamber chairman Artemio Disini said.

The chamber said a total of P66.6 billion in gross production value of large scale mining operations would also be lost annually.

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