Mines gain reprieve

Palace lets 28 firms comply first before suspension or closure

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte and his Cabinet will observe due process before shutting down or suspending 28 mining sites in 10 provinces, a Palace spokesman said Thursday.

In a statement, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said mining companies subject to closure or suspension for violating environmental regulations will be given an opportunity to dispute the mining audit undertaken by the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources, the results of which have not yet been made public.

Abella said the mining companies would also be able to undertake “the necessary remedies to ensure compliance with government standards.”

“The Department of Finance shall have further discussions with the DENR in their capacities as concerned government agencies of the Mining Industry Coordinating Council [MICC],” Abella said.

Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella
Last week, Environment Secretary Gina Lopez announced the closure of 23 mining companies and the suspension of five others, citing the results of a mining audit that she has not made public. The move would throw 19,000 workers out of a job, and hurt tens of thousands of others who indirectly benefit from the mining operations in their communities.

On Thursday, Lopez admitted that she disregarded the recommendation of a technical review committee to merely suspend some mining companies.

In an interview at the Palace, Lopez confirmed reports that the technical review committee she created in November 2016 recommended only a maximum of “suspension and fines,” and that she decided to close 23 of them on her own.

“Yeah that’s true,” Lopez told reporters. “[The recommendation as] suspension and fines ... and the fines don’t go to the community; it goes to the national government, it’s so unfair.”

Lopez said she “didn’t agree at all” with the recommendation to just impose fines on mining companies that allegedly committed environmental violations.

Asked for the basis of her closure orders, Lopez pointed at herself.

“Blame me. Not even Leo [Jasareno], it’s my decision,” she added, referring to the dismissed former Environment undersecretary who led the mining audit.

Earlier this week, the Finance department voiced worries that the closures would cripple the local government units that rely heavily on the taxes and fees paid by the mining companies for their revenues.

Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo said her department will conduct a survey to determine the extent of joblessness that would result from the mining closues.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said that while his department has an emergency jobs program in place, it would only be able to absorb a limited number of workers and the jobs would only be temporary.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, who has been vocal on the financial impact of the mine closures, said Thursday he had no mining interests. He said his only involvement in the mining industry was when he headed Philippine Associated Smelting and Refining Corp. in 1999 and 2003 and in 2006, when he rehabilitated Rapu-Rapu mine.

“Since then, I have nothing to do with mines. I do not have mining interest I personally have no investment in mine. I have shares in stocks in mines,” he added.

Journalists covering Lopez’s closure announcement asked for copies of the mining audit, but she refused, saying that they do not have to “be privy to the processes” on which she made her decisions.

On Wednesday, Lopez attended a hearing of the Senate labor committee, which convened to find ways to address the plight of mining workers who would be rendered jobless as a result of the mine closures.

Lopez said the government would spend P8 billion to build “blue lagoons, enchanted rivers” in ecological zones where displaced mining workers would be hired.

But the chairman of the committee, Senator Joel Villanueva, said the government needed to “get their act together” because 19,000 jobless miners was “not a small number.”

Surigao Rep. Robert Ace Barbers told Lopez to develop her “green economy” first before throwing tens of thousands of miners out of work.

“Put up your ‘green economy’ first, develop it and employ these people, then you can tell the mining companies to stop,” Barbers said.

The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines accused Lopez of “condemning to poverty more than 1.2- million Filipinos whose livelihood depend on legitimate, permitted mining.”

It added that Lopez “is slowly killing an industry that has faithfully paid billions in taxes and fees annually,” referring to the P10.1 billion in tax revenues collected by the government from the mining sector in 2015.

The mining operations ordered closed down or suspended account for 46 percent or P4.6 billion of these tax revenues, the chamber said.

Moreover, about $22 billion in mining investments will be put on hold as a result of Lopez’s move, the chamber added.

“When faced with the fact that almost all of our member-companies’ mining operations met the standards and received the certification of ISO 14001, she launched her own four-day audit and packed the audit teams with anti-mining NGOs,” the industry association said.

“That she uses the results of this second audit rather than the results of the ISO standards reveal her inherent bias against the industry as a whole,” the chamber said. “Worse, President Rodrigo Duterte’s appointee Undersecretary and Concurrent MGB (Mines and Geosciences Bureau) Director Mario Luis Jacinto and his team are being ignored. They were even banned from last Thursday’s press conference, [which only included] anti-mining NGOs.”

The chamber on Thursday reiterated its request to see the results of the DENR mining audit.

“We are not just requesting for the mere summation of the audit results. We need the actual test results which were used as bases for determining whether or not these mining firms have violated environmental regulations,” said the chamber’s chairman, Artemio Disini.

The group wants to see that water and air quality test, siltation test, proper solid waste management and other pertinent and standardized tests as prescribed by law were done.

“The DENR needs to show us that these tests were conducted in each mining company and the specific findings that merited their suspension or closure,” he added.

The chamber said it is asking for the results in the spirit of fairness and transparency.

The Palace intervention in the controversial closure and suspension orders lifted stock prices Thursday, after two successive days of losses.

The PSE Index gained 17.84 points to 7,252.66. The Mining and Oil index gained 238.05 points or 1.99 percent to close at 12,209.90.

Also on Thursday, the Philippine Business for Environmental Stewardship (PBEST), a non-government organization, criticized what it described as the “divisive” leadership of Lopez at the DENR.

“The sound management of the environment requires the involvement and cooperation of people and communities, not antagonism and animosity,” said lawyer Ysan Castillo, secretary general of PBEST.

“We live in one big ecosystem, where everything and everyone is interconnected. We need a type of governance that is inclusive, not just of the marginalized, but of all, including those perceived to be the ones destroying the environment.” With Gabrielle H. Binaday

Topics: President Rodrigo Duterte , Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella , Mining companies , Cabinet , Department of the Environment and Natural Resources(DENR) , Department of Finance , Mining Industry Coordinating Council
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