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23 mining sites ordered closed; firms to appeal

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(Photo from Gina Lopez's official Facebook page)


QUEZON CITY — Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Regina Lopez, after personally witnessing through aerial survey the devastation that mining has caused in the country’s mountains, has ordered the closure of 23 of the country's 43 metal mines and the suspension of six mines, mostly nickel producers.


The mines have caused damages to the environment and community, according to Lopez.


Four of the mines are in  Zambales; three in Homonhon Island in Samar; seven in Dinagat Islands province and four in Surigao Del Norte and three in Surigao del Sur.


 Lopez said 15 of the mines facing closure are located in watershed areas wherein mining operation is prohibited.


“The decision on the watersheds is non-negotiable. You cannot and you must not and you should not have any mining which endangers the water supply of the Filipino,” said Lopez.


Lopez explained: "I am not against the mining industry, per se, but I am against suffering. It is not right that people make a lot of money to the detriment of the community. It's not right, it's against the mining law, it's against the Philippine constitution."

She pointed out that the action is the result of the 2016 mining audit conducted by DENR.


The mining firms which immediately contested the order have 15 days to file motion for reconsideration. Off hand, officials of the firms said the DENR did not observe due process in doing its inspections and coming out with the closure order.


Artemio Disini, chairman of the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, told a briefing that the first option for affected miners would be to appeal to President Rodrigo Duterte "before going to the courts".

"We have a total 1.2 million people affected including family members," Disini said.


The latest Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) order cancelling 75 mining contracts throughout the country is consistent with the law, but due process must still be observed before its enforcement.


“The cancellation of 75 mineral production sharing agreements (MPSAs) by Secretary Regina Lopez is consistent with Republic Act 7942 that mining applications are closed to proclaimed watershed forest reserves,” Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said in a statement distributed to media.


“However, as agreed upon in the last Cabinet meeting, the DENR is to establish that it has gone through due process before enforcing the applicable laws, rules, or regulations,” Abella said.


According to the Palace official, “the DENR is to issue a show cause order for concerned mining companies and they will be given seven days to reply.”


Lopez on Tuesday ordered the cancellation of the 75 mining contracts in an intensified campaign to stop extraction of resources in sensitive areas.


The cancelled contracts, which cover projects that are still in the exploration stage or are not yet in production, are all located in watershed zones.


These include the USD5.9-billion Tampakan gold and copper project in South Cotabato, potentially the country’s biggest foreign investment and believed to be one of the largest gold prospects in the world.


Also affected by the cancellation order was the USD1.2-billion copper-gold project of Philex Mining Corp., one of the country’s biggest miners, in Mindanao.


Lopez said that she had to order the cancellation of the MPSAs because they could endanger the water supply.


Earlier, the DENR chief ordered the closure of 23 of the country’s 41 mineral mines while five other mines were suspended.


The February 2 decision to close or suspend existing mine operations followed a months-long audit of the mines.


This prompted an outcry from the mining industry, represented by the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP), which maintained that due process were not observed in the proceedings.


On February 7, Abella said that President Rodrigo Duterte and his Cabinet decided to give affected mining firms the opportunity to present their side.


“This means companies affected by mining closures for violations of environmental laws and regulations will be given the opportunity to respond to or dispute the audit, or make the necessary remedies to ensure compliance with government standards,” Abella said.


Still largely unexplored, the Philippines is the world's top nickel ore supplier, but the mining sector contributes less than 1 percent to the overall economy.

Only 3 percent of 9 million hectares (22 million acres) identified by the state as having high mineral reserves is currently being mined, according to government data.

Ronald Recidoro from the Chamber of Mines said on Thursday that affected miners would "definitely" seek legal action if President Rodrigo Duterte denied their appeal to overturn Lopez's orders.

Duterte, who last year said the Philippines could survive without a mining industry, on Thursday threw his support behind Lopez's latest action.

Lopez "took it upon herself to be the judge and the executioner of the mining industry," said Vicente Lao who owns chromite producer Mt. Sinai Mining Exploration and Development Corp, which has also been ordered to close.


The mining companies in Dinagat Island ordered to stop operating were AAMPHIL Natural Resources Exploration, Oriental Synergy Mining Corp., SinoSteel Philippines HY Mining Corp., Kromico, Inc., Oriental Vision Mining Philippines Corp., Wellex Mining Corp., and Libjo Mining Corp.


The mining operations in Surigao del Norte ordered to stop were the Hinatuan Mining Corp. in Hinatuan Island, Tagana-an town; Adnama Mining Resources Inc. (AMRI) in Barangay Urbiztondo, Claver; Claver Mineral Development Corp. in Barangay Cagdianao, and Platinum Development Corp. in Barangay Cagdianao, Claver town.


In Surigao del Sur, those ordered closed were the CTP Construction and Mining Corp. in Carrascal Carrascal Nickel Corp., Carrascal and Marcventures Mining and Development Corp.n operating at a watershed in the town of Cantilan.


Other affected mining companies are BenguetCorp Nickel Mines Inc., Eramen Minerals Inc., LNL Archipelago Minerals Inc., Zambales Diversified Metals Corporation, Mount Sinai Mining Exploration and Development Corp., Emir Minerals Corp., Techiron Mineral Resources Inc., AAMPHIL Natural Resources Exploration, Oriental Synergy Mining Corp., SinoSteel Philippines HY Mining Corp., Kromico Inc., Oriental Vision Mining Philippines Corp., Wellex Mining Corp., Libjo Mining Corp., Adnama Mining Resources, Inc., Claver Mineral Development Corp., Hinatuan Mining Corp., CTP Construction Mining Corp., Carrascal Nickel Corp., Marcventures Mining and Development Corp., and Platinum Development Corp.


Meanwhile, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said about 1.2 million Filipinos will be affected by the DENR closure order on the 21 mining companies.


Dominguez said he is “deeply concerned over the welfare of the 1.2 million people affected by the closure of the 23 PH (Philippine) mines.”


“This will result to joblessness,” he added.


The Finance chief said some members of the inter-agency Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) have discussed the issue and the possible programs to help affected families.


“We are trying to meet as early as possible. We are just waiting for the response of the other members of the MICC. We want to have it next week, as soon as possible,” he said.


MICC is chaired by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). Its members are the secretaries of the DENR and the Department of Finance (DOF), the Director General of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), the president of the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (ULAP) and representatives of the business, civil society, and the academe.


Dominguez said Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco has suggested that Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo survey the affected people and for the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to prepare emergency hiring.


“Sec. Evasco has suggested that we engage them in a greening program to do tree planting,” he said.They were given a 15-day leeway to appeal the DENR order, which will be submitted to the Office of the President for final approval.

DENR Undersecretary Art Valdez of the Anti-Environmental Crime Task Force said DENR would be vigilant in imposing the closure order.
"We will pour in more logistics at areas where these mining operations to be closed are located, to closely monitor compliance, and for them to abide by the closure and the rehabilitation processes. The closure order also is the time that the rehabilitation fund will be released, representing a certain percentage of fees set aside by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB)," Valdez explained.

Valdez added that funds would also be used for the sustainable area development program, which is intended to provide livelihood of the people who used to work for the closed mining operation.

Atty Michelle Go, environment assistant secretary for Field Operations in Mindanao, stressed the utmost importance of the DENR's task: "DENR's overarching goals are Ecosystems Integrity and Social Justice, which are manifested by a healthy environment where people can live to fulfill their fullest potential. Secretary Lopez is determined and will continue to ensure that the people benefit from the fruits of the land they live in."


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