Published August 7, 2017, 10:01 PM By Madelaine B. Miraflor
Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu has issued his strongest statement yet against the miners in the country, telling them to “comply with the laws or cease operations.”
A recent statement from Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) cited Cimatu saying that mining companies must comply with all existing mining and environmental laws if they want their operations to continue.
Cimatu issued this warning as he promised that from now on, the DENR will be strict in exercising its regulatory powers to reduce to the minimum the environmental impacts of mining operations in the country.
“While our laws allow the exploration of our natural resources, those privileged will have to adhere to strict rules and regulations, and always focused on the national interest,” Cimatu said.
“We will punish those who violate relevant regulations by imposing the highest possible penalties provided by law,” he added.
According to him, the DENR will partner with local government units, concerned communities and the private sector, and mobilize all concerned to pinpoint the culprits and punish them.
Meanwhile, Cimatu assured that the DENR is conducting a thorough review of an earlier mining audit, which recommended the suspension or closure of several mining operations.
“We are carefully reviewing each and every company in accordance with existing laws and, of course, based on fact and the evidence,” Cimatu said.
He said the DENR properly adheres to due process and gives all concerned firms and sectors the chance to raise their concerns.
“We will not be rushed to judgment,” he further said.
Cimatu’s recent pronouncements came days after the meeting he had with President Rodrigo Duterte and some representatives of mining civil society organizations in Malacañang last week.
It was Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) vice president Ronald Recidoro who confirmed first that there was indeed such meeting.
Commenting on the issue, Isidro Consuji, the chairman and chief executive officer of Semirara Mining and Power Corp. (SMPC) – the country’s largest coal miner – said he was informed that the meeting went smooth and cordial.
According to him, the miners were assured that this administration will not close them down without due process.
A few days ago, the country’s biggest miners that belong to COMP have been told to “clean up their own ranks” by one of their members and that they must stop blaming small-scale miners for being under intense scrutiny now.
Walter Brown, president and chief executive officer of Apex Mining Company, said his company has already resigned from COMP, which is the industry organization of mining companies and of businesses involved in the highly challenged minerals sector.
This developed as Brown expressed his disappointment and frustration with COMP’s response to President Rodrigo Duterte’s call for the mining industry to clean up its acts.
A few weeks ago, Duterte was quoted using colorful language that he will cut off the heads of rich miners if they don’t repair farms ravaged by mining.
COMP refused to believe that they are the ones that are being attacked by Duterte and instead condemed illegal small-scale miners.
“Strict regulation and monitoring by the Mines and Geo-Sciences Bureau (MGB) and the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), especially of the small-scale mining sector, will be key to ensuring that the environment is adequately protected, and that more trees are planted in mining areas,” said Recidoro.
According to Brown, he does not agree that the industry should blame the illegal small-scale miners as a response to Duterte’s pronouncements or when the mining industry is put to task for perceived destruction of the environment.
“I would rather that the Chamber regulate its own ranks and discipline its members who do not comply with existing mining rules and regulations and those who pay lip service to responsible mining,” Brown said.
“Every organization has its own share of good members and bad members. But the mining industry is subject to intense scrutiny now. If we do not clean up our own ranks, all the good will go down the same drain with the bad, when the industry is taxed to death, as the President has warned,” he added.
Apex Mining is one of the 13 mines that passed the DENR’s audit led by former Environment Chief Regina Paz Lopez.
During his second State-of-the-Nation Address, Duterte also didn’t let the miners off the hook, warning to tax the sector to death as well as impose a ban on mineral exports.