LAWMAKERS on Tuesday branded as crazy the actions of Environment Secretary Gina Lopez, who ordered 27 more mining companies shuttered, thus “wreaking havoc” on the country’s economy.
“Secretary Lopez does not know what she’s doing. Her actions are crazy especially [closing] down these mining firms arbitrarily,” said Kalinga Rep. Allen Jesse Mangaoang.
Mangaoang, along with Coop-Natcco Rep. Anthony Bravo filed House Resolution 756 to inquire into Lopez’s actions that they said were wreaking havoc on the economy.
Cibac Rep. Sherwin Tugna also expressed alarm that due process was being undermined by Lopez’s actions.
“While we believe we need to protect our environment, it is paramount also that we have to observe due process and be fair to all the mining stakeholders,” Tugna said.
Tugna said while Cibac was fighting corruption in government, the party-list group was also concerned that the government was closing down businesses without laying down the basis for the closure.
“The government should be fair in making these mining firms comply with our environmental laws. It cannot just close down any business without letting these firms know what violations they have committed. That is not just fair,” Tugna told the Manila Standard in an interview.
Mangaoang echoed Tugna’s statement and said most of these mining firms were compliant.
“Congress will not take this sitting down. There are laws that were enacted to ensure that the environment is protected but we will not allow these laws to be violated and misused at anybody’s whim and caprices,” Mangaoang said.
He said because the mining companies never received the findings of the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources audit, they did not know what their respective violations were.
Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay Jr., whose district has seven mining firms that were ordered closed, said some 1.2 million people who depend on the industry would be hurt by Lopez’s actions.
Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza said Lopez was doing a disservice to the country and supported a congressional investigation.
“This is insane when one of our secretaries is busy closing down businesses and we don’t even know her basis for doing so. We want to find out what drove her to do that,” said Atienza in a separate interview.
During the Kapihan sa Manila Hotel by the Plaridel Group, Mangaoang agreed that there was no basis for Lopez’s actions.
“Gina Lopez says she flew by chopper and saw the mountains in Surigao were denuded and that when it rained, the seas become red. Of course, because the soil in these mountains is red and the mountains were denuded because no trees would grow in these areas because the soils are mineralized. When there are minerals, not one tree would grow. This is why these areas had been declared as mineral reservations. There are no watersheds in these areas because trees cannot grow. The Surigao mountains are rich in minerals, particularly nickel,” Pichay said.
“Some sources revealed that the announcement of these closures and suspensions 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 said in their resolution.
“The apparent whimsical acts of closing and suspending these mining companies, if made arbitrarily and oppressively, constitute violation of substantive due process,” they said.
Mangaoang and Bravo argued that the DENR should instead allow the mining firms affected by the order to rectify the supposed mistakes in their operations.
“Secretary Lopez decided to immediately close and suspend these mining companies instead of allowing them to institute corrective measures,” the lawmakers said.
“The immediate closure and suspension were announced without giving these mining companies the opportunity to even respond to the alleged finding of irregularities and violations of various environmental laws by the DENR,” they added.
Earlier, Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers assailed Lopez for her decision, explaining the audit was purportedly made secret and many of the firms affected by the ruling were legitimate and observe responsible mining in their operations.
Barbers 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 on 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.
According to Barbers, the so-called environmental violations, if true, could be the result of years of alleged neglect or tolerance of former Environment secretary Ramon Paje and the Jasareno-led MGB.
Ako Bicol Rep. Rodel Batocabe, president of the Party List Coalition urged Congress to exercise its oversight powers to determine the basis of the order issued by Lopez, saying the crackdown on the mining industry could hurt the country’s economy.
Pichay accused Lopez of violating all pertinent laws about mining, including the Mineral Production Sharing Agreement that the mining firms signed with the government.
He insisted that under the MPSA, once an audit of the mining firm was decided, the government should inform the firm about the intention to audit and the firm is allowed to appoint an official to join the audit team.
After the audit, he said, the team would come up with a report and discuss the findings, including the supposed violations that were committed to allow the firms to rectify any violations.
Pichay also argued that mining firms are allowed to contest the findings that would lead to an “arbitration” that would give the firms one year to settle the issue with the government.
“We will soon find out what this brouhaha was all about. It is getting crazier each day when we would wake up to the news that more firms had been closed down without us knowing the reasons why these had been shut down,” Mangaoang said.
Mangaoang said the congressional inquiry would be conducted jointly by the House committee on good government, chaired by Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel; and House committee on environment, chaired by Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate.
Mangaoang is vice chairman of the Zarate panel.
Malacanang on Tuesday said that it will look carefully into the violations of the 75 mining operations which Environment Secretary Regina Lopez ordered for closure.
“It will depend on the violation … and what the law is saying about the mining contracts,” said the President’s chief legal counsel, Salvador Panelo.
On Tuesday, Lopez ordered the cancellation of 75 mining contracts she claimed were all in watershed zones, with many in the exploration stage. They cover projects not yet in production.
Panelo, who sits at the Mining Industry Coordinating Council, said that the Palace and the Cabinet were trying to protect Lopez when they stopped her from immediately closing and suspending a number of mining firms.
In an interview with reporters, Panelo said that during a meeting with the Mining Industry Coordinating Council on Friday, he and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez tried making Lopez realize the importance of observing due process first before shutting down the mines.
“Initially they were arguing. The point of Sonny [Dominguez] was there should be due process. Gina meanwhile, said that there is already due process. So I told them, Secretary Gina, you have the right to regulate the law that you’re citing. Le’ts impose certain conditions. One has to go to due process. Secretary Sonny just wants to protect you so that when the mining companies sue you, you’re gonna win.’ Secretary Gina did not understand this initially but now she realizes that all of us were trying to protect her,” Panelo said.
During the meeting, Panelo said they helped Lopez understand portions of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, such as its provision on the reasonable time for a mining company to correct its violation. Panelo said that the law was “silent” about it.
Lopez had earlier ordered the closure of 23 of the Philippines’ 41 mines on Feb. 2 for damaging watersheds and for causing the siltation of coastal waters and farmlands. Another five mines were suspended, causing an outcry from the industry.
The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines on Tuesday slammed the cancellation of 75 mining agreements, saying it directly cast into doubt the sanctity of contracts.
“We feel that the cancellation of these agreements does not rest on Ms. Lopez alone but must be collectively decided upon by the government as a whole considering the adverse impact it may have on the country,” the chamber said in a statement.
“More importantly, we feel that Ms. Lopez now has to answer to the Filipino people on all these that are fundamental in a society that follows the rule of law.”
On Tuesday, Lopez issued a show-cause order to 27 operators in Luzon, 11 operators in the Visayas and 37 others in the Visayas, compelling them to explain why their permits should not be cancelled for their operations inside the watersheds.
“You kill the watershed, you kill life. You kill the river, you kill agriculture, you kill the drinking water,” she said.
Her effort was a “gift of love on Valentine’s Day to the Filipino public,” she added. With Anna Leah E. Gonzales