Philippine Daily Inquirer / 05:31 AM March 09, 2017
SURIGAO CITY—Local officials in mining areas throughout the Caraga region have expressed opposition to the appointment of Environment Secretary Gina Lopez.
Officials of the three provinces, where mining taxes comprise a substantial portion of local revenues, were worried about the unintended consequences of Lopez’s drastic actions against mining firms operating in their areas.
In a phone interview, Surigao del Sur Gov. Vicente Pimentel warned that the loss of mining jobs and revenues could lead to increased criminality, further exacerbating the insurgency problem prevalent in the province.
“In Carrascal town, where I used to be mayor, we can expect the return of highway robberies, dynamite fishing and other problems that we had (already) addressed, as unemployment levels (could) rise with the loss of mining jobs,” Pimentel said.
All three large-scale nickel miners that operate in Carrascal and Cantilan towns in Surigao del Sur are part of the 14 mines ordered closed by Lopez following a nationwide mining audit.
The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines and other mining companies have characterized the order as arbitrary and without regard for due process.
In Cantilan town, Mayor Philip Pichay said in a separate interview that the loss of mining revenues would reduce the municipality’s annual income to over 50 percent. He did not provide any specific amount.
Carrascal, meanwhile, will lose P198.3 million, or 62.3 percent of its total operating income, according to the figures released by the Department of Finance.
Lack of consultations
While they remain supportive of President Duterte’s drive against irresponsible mining, Pimentel and Pichay said Lopez had made a mistake by acting unilaterally.
“She should have consulted all mining stakeholders, especially local officials and mine workers, who will be affected (by) her actions,” Pimentel said.
Dinagat province, for its part, stands to lose 75 percent of its annual revenues with Lopez’s order to close seven of the nine large-scale mines in the province, according to Vice Gov. Benglen Ecleo.
Ecleo is also worried about the impact of the closure order on the province’s four mining towns, which heavily rely on mining taxes to bankroll basic services.
Ecleo said that, for instance, Tubajon town will lose P38 million, which amounts to 55.4 percent of its total operating income.
In Surigao del Norte, Gov. Sol Matugas said the province could not provide alternative jobs to some 5,000 mining personnel who would be affected by the closure of four mines operating in the province.
During a series of consultations last month, Lopez promised to provide jobs to affected workers under her “green economy” program. She said that mine workers could be employed under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ National Greening Program.
The whole Caraga Region stands to lose 20,589 mining jobs if Lopez’s mining closure orders become final, according to lawyer Evelyn R. Ramos, regional director of the Department of Labor and Employment in Caraga.
The regional director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau-Caraga, Roger de Dios, said that the loss of jobs could impact 300,000 individuals, including dependents of mining suppliers, subcontractors and local businesses.