(The Philippine Star) | Updated February 18, 2017 - 12:00am
MANILA, Philippines - Mining firms are considering filing graft charges against Environment Secretary Gina Lopez for the alleged lack of due process in her orders to close 28 operations and cancel 75 mining contracts, which may hinder her confirmation by the Commission on Appointments (CA).
Industry sources, who refused to be named, bared that majority of the affected mining companies are looking at possible graft cases to be individually filed by the firms next week.
“Some will be filing. We’re hoping that all of them (involved companies) will. As many as possible,” the legal head of a listed mining company said.
Marcventures Mining and Development Corp., whose nickel mine was one of 23 ordered to close by Lopez for environmental violations, said yesterday it will take legal action to overturn the DENR order and plans to ship out ore next month.
The source also claimed that Lopez is violating the Revised Administrative Code of 1987 of the Civil Service Commission, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees and Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
“(It’s) when you cause undue injury to a person without due process and with grave abuse of authority,” the source said.
But OceanaGold Philippines chairman Joey Leviste said his company does not plan to file graft charges against Lopez.
“This is purely a policy dispute with the current Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). We don’t intend to do that. We have full trust in the President. He said he is in favor of responsible mining and the Canadian-Australian model, which we adhere to,” Leviste explained.
The plan to file graft charges might hamper the scheduled confirmation of Lopez, according to Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) legal and policy vice president Ronald Recidoro.
Lopez has failed to get the nod of the CA and was just re-appointed by President Duterte as DENR chief. Her confirmation was originally slated last Wednesday but she requested to have it rescheduled to March 1.
“The filing itself is something that the CA can take notice of. It will give them something to think about, that this woman has apparently abused her authority,” Recidoro told The STAR.
“We urged everybody who felt that they are aggrieved to file whatever is necessary, be it graft or personal case of damages. Just file the necessary cases so she will know that she has caused damages to many parties,” he added.
Earlier this week, the COMP filed an opposition to the confirmation of Lopez due to her alleged bias against large-scale players.
“We just want to relay the message to the public that we feel that the secretary is not qualified and that the President should choose somebody who is better suited for the job,” Recidoro said.
No more future for mining?
Recidoro also claimed that should Lopez be confirmed by March 1, the industry will no longer have a future in the country.
“If she gets confirmed, I don’t think the industry has a future that’s why we are compelled to file that opposition in the first place,” he said.
Recidoro also claimed that Lopez’s plan of a green economy and ecotourism to replace the mining sector is not a long-term solution.
“With the green jobs she’s saying, what does she want people to do? Plant mangroves? That’s okay but how much does that make compared with what the workers are currently earning?” he said.
The Chamber also challenged Lopez to name the mining company that offered her a bribe of P6 million per month.
“We would like to challenge the secretary to name names rather than just leave it innuendo. She should identify who these companies are because by failing to name names, she’s putting the entire industry under a cloud of doubt,” Recidoro said.
“We commit that if these companies are members of the Chamber and we found to have really tried to bribe the secretary, we will remove them,” he added.
Some mining stakeholders are also studying the possibility of suing the government as their last resort.
The Chamber claimed that the current state of the industry might cost the government “several billion dollars” since contractors are entitled to investment guarantees.
The Philippine Exporters Confederation (Philexport) has joined the growing number of groups in the private sector alarmed over the DENR’s directive to shut down some mining firms, warning it has serious repercussions on jobs and export growth.
Philexport presidnt Sergio Ortiz-Luis Jr. said while the export group supports sustainable and responsible mining, such a sweeping crackdown on the mining industry will have “serious local and global trade repercussions.”
He said one imminent danger is the loss of jobs as DENR’s closure and suspension order is seen to affect thousands of workers nationwide that rely on mining and related industries for their livelihood.
“Where will these people go for jobs and livelihood, not to mention the effects on their dependents and the other stakeholders in the communities hosting them? Even if the environment department has temporary funds to help the displaced workers, I doubt if these funds can be immediately disbursed,” Luis said.
He noted that overall Philippine exports have been weakening for nearly two years now due to the slump in global demand, and the closure of these mining operations could further worsen the country’s export performance.
He also claimed the crackdown will severely undermine investor confidence and negatively affect the supply chain.
“Secretary Lopez’s action is posing danger not just to the mining sector, but also to other sectors in the supply chain including drilling, construction, hauling and shipping, processing companies, manpower and transportation service providers,” he added.
He claimed that even local government units also stand to lose potential revenue, including diminished local taxes, fees and charges, as well as reduced shares from the national tax.
Ortiz Luis urged the DENR to focus on “eliminating illegal mining operations that do not pay taxes, nor help in community development and are destructive to the environment” instead of targeting legitimate businesses. – With Richmond Mercurio