Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Mines bureau probes Ipilan project

Posted on April 05, 2017

THE Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) is investigating a mining project of Ipilan Nickel Corp. in Palawan after local government authorities complained about the entry of heavy equipment despite their claims that the miner lacked the necessary work permits.
“As we speak, may ongoing investigation sa area (there is an ongoing investigation in the area),” said MGB Region IV-B Director Roland A. De Jesus in a phone interview on Tuesday.

Mr. De Jesus said the agency on Monday deployed mining officials in the area to look into the complaint after a rally was stage at the proposed mine site during the weekend.

The officials were accompanied by two representatives from the municipality of Brooke’s Point and one from Environmental Legal Action Center, a nongovernment organization against mining.

“May mga (There were) dump trucks raw and heavy equipment according to the mayor, for development roads leading to the mine area,” Mr. De Jesus said, citing allegations by Brooke’s Point Mayor Mary Jean A. Feliciano.

He said the project is in the development stage and has not yet reached the mining phase.

In a phone interview, Ms. Feliciano said the company has yet to secure mayor’s permit, but reports reached her that it was hiring employees.

At nagulat ako dahil may nag-report sa akin na taga-area na may mga heavy equipment na doon (I was surprised because someone from the area reported to me that there were heavy equipment there), just, I think, two weeks ago,” she said, adding that she immediately went to the site.

Sought for comment, Dante R. Bravo, president of publicly listed Global Ferronickel Holdings, Inc., which owns the Ipilan Nickel, denied allegations that roads were being built leading to the mine site.

“We have only brought in 10 dump trucks for environmental purposes,” he said in a mobile message yesterday, noting that the move was meant to settle ponds and develop nurseries, among others.

The Brooke’s Point mayor said she had requested for a dialogue with the site manager twice to be allowed entry for inspection but her appeals had been thumbed down.

However, during a recent dialogue with a company representative to answer the issues, she was told that it was invoking its right not to present any document.

“I feel talaga na nabastos ako bilang (I felt I was disrespected as) mayor ng (of) Brooke’s Point,” Ms. Feliciano said.

She said the Local Government Code is “very explicit” that a town has the power and responsibility “to safeguard and adopt measures to protect the environment.”

Asked for clarification on the mayor’s allegations, Mr. Bravo said she did not provide prior notice before going to the mine site.

“We have not violated anything. We are not under [her] jurisdiction. We are not obligated to report to her on anything... The mayor is not the regulator. She is trying to usurp the functions of the MGB,” he added.

Following the dialogue with the firm’s representative, Ms. Feliciano said she reported the incident to certain people of the community who then gathered “more or less” 1,000 residents and staged a rally on Sunday by the gates of the Ipilan mine site.

Mr. Bravo said the protesters gate-crashed the site “unlawfully with grave threats, grave coercion, and intimidation.” He said the weekend rally led to the injury of a company employee.

“They damaged our gates. One of our employees was injured because the mayor tried to forcibly take and destroy her camera. They cursed us endlessly,” he added.

The Ipilan mine’s operation was slated early this year but was moved to 2018.

In January, the DENR said the environmental compliance certificate of the Ipilan Nickel project expired, nullifying the validity of the necessary document to run the business.

The firm has filed a motion for reconsideration with the agency but has not received any reply, according to Mr. Bravo.

Ipilan Nickel has so far poured some $50 million for its mining venture. -- Janina C. Lim

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