TWO lawmakers have filed a resolution seeking a congressional probe into Environment Secretary Gina Lopez’s order to close 23 mining companies and suspend five others, saying the action was selective and taken in the absence of due process.
Kalinga Rep. Allen Jesse Mangaoang and Coop-Natcco party-list Rep. Anthony Bravo, in filing House Resolution 756, sought the investigation in aid of legislation to protect the mining industry, which contributes significantly to the national economy.
“Some sources revealed that the announcement of these closure and suspension came on the heels of allegations that personal prejudices of her office mired the mining audit process and the choices of who or what company gets to be closed and suspended,” Mangaoang and Bravo alleged.
“The apparent whimsical acts of closing and suspending these mining companies, if made arbitrarily and oppressively, constitute [a] violation of substantive due process,” they said.
Mangaoang and Bravo argued that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources should instead allow the mining firms affected by the order to correct the supposed mistakes in their operations.
“Secretary Lopez decided to immediately close and suspend these mining companies instead of giving them other corrective measures or penalties,” Mangaoang and Bravo said.
The two lawmakers said the immediate closure and suspension were announced without giving these mining companies the opportunity to even respond or answer for the alleged finding of irregularities and violations of various environmental laws by the DENR.
Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers earlier slammed Lopez for her decision, saying many of the companies affected by her ruling were legitimate and responsible in their operations.
Barbers also said Lopez could have been misled by one of her consultants, former Environment Undersecretary and chief of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, Leo Jasareno, who headed the audit team but was later sacked by President Rodrigo Duterte.
“When Secretary Lopez was appointed as DENR chief, she ordered the audit of all mining firms nationwide. Unfortunately, despite his dismissal, Jasareno was retained as the head of the audit team,” Barbers said.
The Palace on Wednesday said mining companies affected by the order would be given a chance to respond.
“The President and his Cabinet collectively decided to observe due process with regard to the mining issue,” Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said, referring to Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.
“This means companies affected by mining closures for violations of environmental laws and regulations will be given the opportunity to respond or dispute the audit, or make the necessary remedies to ensure compliance with government standards,” he added.
Abella said that the Finance Department will have further discussions with the DENR to convene the Mining Industry Coordinating Council meeting soon.
Also on Wednesday, the Chamber of Mines thanked Duterte for deciding to observe due process.
“We welcome the decision as this gives hope to our mining communities comprised of the many women and men who rely on the industry for their living,” the group said in a statement.
“We commit to work closely with government and the Minerals Industry Coordinating Council regarding issues raised to ensure that a fair and just conclusion to the mines audit is reached.”
Lopez on Wednesday said all the suspension and cancellation orders were signed and released Monday.
Lopez also said she will release to the mining industry the committee recommendations submitted to her by the technical committee.
Mining companies and other stakeholders in the industry earlier complained that the mining audit was not fair, noting that the government cannot just shut down mining operations without due process.
They also said that the closures would result in loss of tax revenues for the local and national governments.
Also on Wednesday, former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo filed a bill prescribing standards for responsible mining.
“The Duterte administration is not anti-mining. The administration views the mining industry as a key player in the Philippine economy. Responsible mining plays a key role in the Philippines. The key word here is ‘responsible.’ You have to do it right. If you cannot do it right, then get out of mining,” Arroyo said.
Arroyo said the bill would provide standards for responsible mining including business integrity, social responsibility, environmental responsibility, reclamation and closure, and management systems.