Published April 20, 2017, 10:01 PM By Madelaine B. Miraflor
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) now prefers to undergo regular legal process to look at mining operations, especially those that it ordered closed and suspended, than conduct another review that will be led by the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC).
To recall, the MICC, co-chaired by Environment Secretary Regina Paz Lopez and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, is now set to conduct a technical review on all mining operations in the country to address the concerns regarding DENR’s decision to shut down and suspend a total of 28 mine sites.
Lopez earlier told Manila Bulletin that he wrote to President Rodrigo Duterte questioning the the decision of DOF to request a budget of R50 million from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) for the conduct of the review.
“An MICC-led review is okay with the DENR but if the procurement process is under DOF because they have the funds, then we don’t trust that process,” Environment Undersecretary for legal affairs Maria Paz Luna told reporters on Wednesday.
“We prefer regular legal process instead — they (mining companies) can file for motion for reconsideration then we reply — so we can discuss actual violations. Because what’s happening is just like media trial. We haven’t really discussed actual violations yet,” she added.
Luna explained that since MICC can’t handle funds, the requested budget of R50 million will be handled by DOF and it will give the latter the capacity to be in charge of the procurement process.
“We’re trying to say that we (DENR) should be the one to request a budget for MICC. MICC is mandated under the DAO (DENR Administrative Order) of DENR, not DOF. DOF might find it hard to explain to COA (Commission on Audit) why they will hire consultants under them,” Luna further said.
Luna said the “assumption” right now is that the DOF doesn’t want to start the review until the budget is approved, while the DENR already wants to start it as soon as possible.
For her part, Lopez said Duterte has not yet responded to her letter questioning the budget proposal of the DOF.
Lopez is also questioning the involvement of Finance Undersecretary Bayani Agabin, a former mining lawyer, in the MICC-led review.
“I want to start the process now. I’m a little worried that the representative of DOF who is co-charing the process in the absence of Secretary (Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III) is involved with a mining company. (That’s) Finance Undersecretary Agabin. He is involved with Rapu-Rapu. So you begin to wonder… where is his heart? Is it for mining or social justice?,” Lopez said in an interview with reporters on the sidelines of the Forum on Biodiversity and Mining.
“I’m worried that the MICC co-chair has appointed someone who is a mining lawyer. I’m not judging him. I have met very good mining lawyers who I feel are really good. I don’t want to polarize the Philippine society,” she added.
Agabin, who also heads the Legal Affairs Group and Revenue Integrity Protection Service (RIPS) of the DOF, previously served as the Senior Vice President for Legal Affairs for Rapu-Rapu Mine in Albay.
“She is free to appeal like any other parties, personalities who are opposing her confirmation with the Commission on Appointments (CA). However, I want to point out that my engagement with Pasar ended more than 15 years ago and Rapu-Rapu 10 years ago,” Agabin said in a text message when sought for comment.