(The Philippine Star) | Updated May 4, 2017 - 12:00am
MANILA, Philippines - A mining company yesterday filed before the Office of the Ombudsman a graft complaint against Environment Secretary Gina Lopez for allegedly using her position to impose additional requirements on the firm that she had suspended for violating mining laws.
Citinickel Mines Development Corp. (CDMC) accused Lopez of violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, Illegal Exaction, Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees and Red Tape Act of 2007.
The 41-page complaint and its corresponding attachments were submitted around 10 a.m. by lawyer Lorna Kapunan, CDMC’s legal counsel.
The mining firm said Lopez usurped the legislative powers of Congress when she required CDMC to pay P2 million per hectare of disturbed land to a trust fund which would have covered around 130 hectares of the company’s mining sites in the towns of Narra and Sofronio Española in Palawan.
The company also questioned her directive to place P130 million in a non-government organization, which it said was controlled by her.
Kapunan said the trust fund that Lopez created is unnecessary, as it is already being covered by two trust funds set under the Philippine Mining Act, which the company has complied with by depositing money in two trust funds running to P47 million and P11 million.
Lopez suspended CDMC’s operations in July 2016. When the company obtained a Mineral Ore Export Permit (MOEP) from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) in November of the same year to enable them to remove and transport their mined ores from the sea, Kapunan said Lopez imposed the additional requirements detailed in a memorandum in January 2017.
Lopez also demanded that the company deposit P1 million per vessel used to ship the mineral ores.
While they laud Lopez’s stance on protecting the environment, Kapunan said this should be within the bounds of the law.
“There is a thin line between passion and tyranny,” Kapunan said in a press briefing. “She imposes restrictions without regard to the law and the property rights of the public which she serves.”
The company took strong notice of the fact that none of the new requirements had any supporting legal basis, adding that Lopez’s action of imposing the requirements on the MOEP is without authority because the power lies with the MGB, as stated under Section 53 of the Mining Act.
Yesterday, the powerful Commission on Appointments (CA) decided to reject Lopez’s ad interim appointment after three confirmation hearings.
Asked why the filing of the complaint coincided with the CA’s decision, Kapunan said they were encouraged by the latest pronouncements from the environment chief that she would not be deterred by criticisms against her.
“You can jail and make accountable any mining company that is unscrupulous and does not comply, but to impose obstacles against Citinickel which is in full compliance based on your audit, I think is abusive and requires to be penalized,” Kapunan said.
For the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP), the CA’s decision to not confirm Lopez is a welcome development for the industry, which has been under the scrutiny of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) with Lopez as chief.
“Of course, we are very thankful. We have been agonizing for the past 10 months. I just think that we made our point and we were able to discuss the issues we brought forward. We were able to articulate the points that we want,” COMP executive vice president Nelia Halcon told The STAR.
Among the Cabinet members, Lopez faced the strongest opposition after mining companies and mining host communities filed their position papers against her confirmation.
Halcon emphasized the industry’s belief in the objectivity of the CA in coming up with the decision, as Lopez failed to explain the legalities of her recent decisions and policymaking, rendering her unfit for the position.
“We are thankful to the Commission for the speedy resolution of her nomination. This is not the end, but rather the beginning of a new chapter for the mining industry,” COMP legal and policy vice president Ronald Recidoro added in a separate phone interview with The STAR.
“We should not make it a point that it is environment versus mining. That’s why we have sustainable development. You develop at the same time you work on the rehabilitation,” Halcon noted.
Now that Lopez has been rejected, the industry is moving toward the review of the major orders and pronouncements which the former DENR chief signed in the past few months.
These include the closure and suspension of some 28 mining companies, cancellation of 75 more mining contracts and the banning of open-pit mining nationwide.
“We will have to challenge those and have it reviewed or even revoked by the next DENR secretary,” Recidoro said.
“Anybody who will replace her will review all these things. That person should get the views of Luis Jacinto (Mines and Geosciences Bureau director) and we believe that all these things should be considered,” Halcon added.
While the mining industry seems to be in a celebratory mood, environment groups and advocates called Lopez’s rejection a “disaster for the environment sector.”
“This is a tragedy for the environment, as well as for the rights and welfare of our people. Lopez’s rejection is a betrayal of the people and specifically of mining-affected communities who are protecting their lives and livelihoods by resisting destructive large-scale mining,” Alyansa Tigil Mina national coordinator Jaybee Garganera said.
He emphasized that it was clear that the mining industry exerted efforts to block the confirmation of Lopez. – With Louise Maureen Simeon Mary Grace Padin