The governor of Agusan del Norte over the weekend appealed to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to spare mining companies operating in the province from a mining audit.
Angel Amante Matba said a suspension of operations of mining companies in Agusan del Norte could lead to unemployment in the province.
“We are asking the DENR to spare Agusan del Norte. We are not neglecting our environment. We have our people to protect,” Matba told reporters.
Based on audit results filed by the DENR Mining Audit Team, SR Metals Inc. (SRMI) and Agata Mining Ventures Inc., both operating in Agusan del Norte, are among the 20 mining companies that are at risk of losing their permit to operate.
“The problem in Agusan del Norte is the problem of politics, that’s the truth. What I’m asking the [DENR] Secretary [Regina Lopez] is [for her]go down here and see the operations [of mining companies here]. I want to plead to her,” Matba said.
According to the governor, she was “surprised” with the audit findings, given that SR Metals and Agata Mining seemed to have been compliant with mining rules.
“In [a]copy of the audit report, I did not see anything that would really be a cause for alarm [that would be]enough for them [DENR] to call for possible suspension [of the two mining companies],” Matba said.
The DENR is particularly asking SR Metals to explain why it should not be held liable for its “violations,” one of which is use of a provincial road as a private mine road.
There is also a petition from the municipal government of Tubay where SRMI operates and the League of Barangay for the cancelation of the company’s Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA).
Miguel Alberto Gutierrez, SR Metals president and chief executive officer, said the company will seek clarifications on two issues raised by the DENR and that they continue to act in accordance with responsible mining practices.
SR Metals’ revised MPSA, which it received last year, covers more than 1,000 hectares in Barangay La Fraternidad in Tubay.
Matba earlier said the DENR should give greater consideration to sentiments of local government units (LGUs) on ongoing government audit of mining operations nationwide.
Moreover, she added, the department should not preclude LGUs from booting out, on their own, erring mining companies.
“In line with moves toward greater decentralization and federalism, local governments should have more say on whether mining companies can stay or go,” the governor said.
Matba cited the example of Zambales Gov. Amor Deloso, who ordered the suspension of dirty miners in his province without waiting for DENR sanctions, and the province of Nueva Vizcaya, which complained to the department that mine tailings were being dumped on farmlands.
“In our case, we always monitored and made sure that tailings and other residues from mining operations in our province never affected the environment and the biodiversity of the province. We will never allow the indiscriminate destruction of our environment and our community. If we allow that, then sa amin lang rin maiiwan yang problema na yan [the problem will stay with us]. Kawawa ang taumbayan [The people will suffer],” she said.
The Agusan del Norte governor added that provinces should not compromise on environmental protection and support only mining operations that serve as role models or good examples of responsible mining through their global-level best practices.
In her province’s case, she said, the local community truly benefited from mining operations and their “multiplier effect,” creating thousands of jobs and numerous business opportunities.
Provincial coffers, according to the governor, also received a big boost by way of more local taxes, while indigenous peoples also received monetary benefits.
“If you say that mining does not contribute [to the local economy], I don’t know where that’s coming from,” Matba said.
“You don’t just look at the number of people employed, you also have to look at the multiplier effect,” she added.
The governor said DENR should be fair with miners, big or small, that comply and continue to comply with all government requirements and standards, both for mining processes and environmental management.
Erring miners, she added, should be shut down immediately.
Meanwhile, TVI Resource Development (Philippines) Inc. (TVIRD), which holds a 60-percent stake in Agata Mining, will further delay its plan to go public after the DENR audit result showed it as one of the companies that may be suspended for environmental violations.
TVIRD said it “has placed all activities relating to its previously proposed listing on the Philippine Stock Exchange and initial public offering [IPO] on hold” because of certain uncertainties.
It was not the first time that TVIRD postponed its plan to conduct an IPO.