Published January 2, 2017, 10:00 PM By Madelaine B. Miraflor
As if 2016 was not yet bad enough for them, mining companies will have every reason to be more cautious in 2017 as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) plans to start the year by suspending them.
If last year the DENR failed to suspend as many companies as Environment Secretary Gina Lopez wants, the DENR chief will make sure that within this month, more mining operations will close down.
Lopez said in an interview that the results on the nationwide audit on mining companies will be disclosed by the second week of January, adding that she expect more miners to be suspended in 2017.
Ever since Lopez officially took over the agency in July, she’s already been eager to shut down mining companies that she believes are not compliant with environmental standards.
In the same month, she called for a nationwide crackdown on mining firms, which has ended in August.
By September, 20 mines faced possible suspension for environmental violations, unsystematic mining methods, and outstanding social issues. These are on top of the 10 suspended mining companies, eight of which are nickel producers.
The number of suspended mining operations plus those facing suspension represents about three quarters of the total operating mines in the country.
Of these 30 mines, 18 are nickel producers that account for 55.5 percent of the country’s total nickel ore output based on 2015 production.
As of now, DENR is now more than three months behind its target schedule in announcing the list of mining firms that should be suspended.
Amid the delays, many industry sources doubted the agency’s capability to ever come up with a final and credible results.
Companies that have been recommended for suspension includes Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company, Filminera Resources Corp., OceanaGold Philippines, Inc., Benguet Corp., Marcventures Mining and Development Corporation; Sinosteel Philippines H.Y. Mining Corp.; Agata Mining Ventures, Inc.; Hinatuan Mining Corporation; Libjo Mining Corporation; AAMPHIL Natural Resources Exploration and Development Corp.; Krominco, Inc.; Carrascal Nickel Corp.; Strongbuilt Mining Development Corp.; Oriental Synergy Mining Corp.; Wellex Mining Corp.; Oriental Vision Mining Philippines Corp.; CTP Construction and Mining Corp.; and Adnama Mining Resources, Inc.; Century Peak Corp.; and SR Metals, Inc.
Prior to the final results, there are also other suspended mines namely Citinickel Mines and Development Corp. (CMDC), EMIR Mineral Resources Corp., Mt. Sinai Mining Exploration Corp., Claver Mineral Development Corp., Ore Asia Mining and Development Corp., and Zambales Diversified Metals Corp., LNL Archipelago Minerals, Inc., and Berong Nickel.
Factions at DENR
Even President Rodrigo Duterte knows that nothing can stop Lopez from intensifying her crusade against mining operations she believes do not comply with environmental standards.
This is why, according to some sources, he appointed Mindanao-based Mario Luis Jacinto as Environment Undersecretary and concurrent Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) director to establish a balance within the agency. MGB is an attached agency to the DENR tasked to regulate and develop the utilization of the country’s mineral resources.
This has prompted another open issue circulating at the DENR now that needs to be resolved this year— the silent brawl between Lopez and the group of Mindanao-based officials recently appointed to the office, which includes Jacinto.
To recall, Lopez is one of the cabinet secretaries that was not yet confirmed by the Commission on Appointments (CA).
“I do not think she would ever get the confirmation. But Gina, in the meantime, let us just concede good faith in her. I hope she would listen to Jacinto,” Duterte earlier said.
In contrast with what Lopez thinks, Jacinto admitted that the country could not yet afford to lose all the mining investments in the country, which stands at P282 billion as of 2015, P78 billion of which belongs to those who are at risk of losing their permit to operate and those that are already suspended.
Jacinto even said that he is willing to see how much the mining sector could grow within this administration after having to contribute only 0.7 percent to Philippine GDP over the last six years.
“It should [grow more] so that it could contribute more in the total computation [of the overall GDP]. Most importantly, it should grow for the communities hosting them. [A positive growth in the sector will also] contribute to a more vibrant trade,” the MGB chief said. “Whatever you produce in the vicinity of a mine, it will be consumed.”
Jacinto is also more open to new mining projects compared to Lopez.
The MGB chief is now working towards the recommendation of policies that will allow new mining projects in the country.
Not only mining firms
However, it is not only mining firms who will have a hard time dealing with Lopez this year.
Before the agency capped 2016, it also began its crackdown on companies from across different sectors that are environment critical, threatening to withdraw their environmental compliance certificates if their operations are found unsafe.
Lopez said she remains committed to get rid of companies who have spawned negative impact on the environment, adding that the agency won’t hesitate to cancel even as much as 800 ECCs.
Withdrawal of the ECC will prevent any company to continue its operations or its certain projects.
Some of the sectors that will be affected are property, manufacturing, infrastructure, construction, and power.
Environment Undersecretary for Legal Ipat Luna said the agency is already finished drafting the set of guidelines that will set the direction for the ECC audit and will soon have a consultation with all the parties concerned, including the businesses.
Reacting on the issue, businesses holding environmental permits from the DENR said they don’t want to suffer the same “chaotic” fate as miners when the agency started a crackdown on the mining industry.
“There should be consultation first before implementing the audit,” Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) president George Barcelon told Business Bulletin. “Otherwise it would be chaotic like what happened to the mining industry.”
PCCI is currently the largest and most influential business organization in the country.
Makati Business Club executive director Peter Perfecto has the same appeal to the DENR.
“My call and appeal to the DENR is for constructive dialogue and consultation with the business sector so that we can hopefully agree on a mutually acceptable evaluation process so that we then are able to help each other achieve our shared goals towards a better Philippines,” he said in a text message.
During the audit, the DENR will not just check the companies’ compliance with the law and ECC conditions but also the overall impact of their operations to the environment through “Environmental Impact Assessment.”
“We will look at companies whether they have caused irreparable damages to environment or whether there are a lot of complains on their operations. We will look at their compliance with the conditions of the ECC. We will be suspending with existing violations,” Luna said.