THE country’s oldest mining firm Benguet Corp. said on Thursday it remains optimistic that mining regulators will reverse the suspension order slapped on its nickel operations in the province of Zambales.
In a statement, Benguet Corp. said that the audit findings of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) will validate that deforestation was the main culprit for the siltation in major waterways in the province and not its mining operation in the town of Sta. Cruz.
“Benguet Corp remains optimistic that the audit findings on its nickel operations in Sta. Cruz, Zambales will validate that it has been operating as a responsible mining company in the province,” the company said.
“We are confident that the achievements of its nickel operations in the pursuit of responsible mining over the years as evidenced by its compliance to international standards, regulatory mandate, and community development programs, will result in the favorable outcome of the recently conducted audit by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR),” it added.
Benguet’s wholly owned subsidiary Benguetcorp Nickel Mines Inc. (BNMI), along with two other nickel operators in the province, was suspended due to complaints of environmental degradation as a result of its nickel ore extraction.
Former MGB Director Leo Jasareno had clarified that the preventive suspension against BNMI was in view of the Writ of Kalikasan issued by the Supreme Court and a newly signed Executive Order by the local government unit of Zambales suspending all mining operations in the province.
Geologist Dr. Carlo Arcilla, citing a scientific study conducted by the University of the Philippines-National Institute of Geological Sciences (UP-NIGS), identified deforestation as the main culprit for the siltation in Zambales and decried the closure of mines based on unfounded accusations.
“I challenge anybody to come up with a deterministic, more accurate study than what we have done for more than a year,” Arcilla said.
“This should be the basis [for deciding]whether you close mines or not—science—not feelings,” the geologist added, in an apparent swipe at the DENR.
The study showed that much of the siltation during the rainy season is caused by the natural erosion characteristic of the land formations in the province, particularly highly erodible banks, run-off from agricultural areas, and reworking of existing deposited sediments, mostly downstream, and that mining activities contribute a negligible 6 to 9 percent siltation in the river systems.
Mining ‘not necessarily’ harmful
“Many times mining has been the whipping boy of many things. Mining is an ugly business but it is not necessarily a harmful business,” Arcilla said at the Mining Philippines 2016 International Conference and Exhibition held last August 23-25 at the Marriott Hotel in Manila.
Meanwhile, Benguet Corp. stressed that BNMI has conducted dredging activities even outside its MPSA (Mineral Production Sharing Agreement) to help in preventing sediment movement further downstream.
It said an assessment conducted by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) Region 3 in October 2015 revealed water parameters remain within safe optimum levels to allow fish and other aquatic resources to thrive in the area.
The assessment also revealed a slight increase in silt depth, possibly contributed by domestic activities, river run-off and natural calamities.
“Acting on BFAR’s recommendations, BMNI continues to implement precautionary measures to minimize silt accumulation, including regular mangrove planting and coastal clean-ups,” Benguet Corp. said.
BNMI received its ISO 14001: Environmental Management System certification on March 17, 2016.
TÜVRheinland, an independent body headquartered in Cologne, Germany, and a leader in evaluating management systems and international certification in the Philippines, granted the EMS certification to BNMI.
Despite the suspended operations, Benguet said that BNMI continues to engage its communities in social development programs. It has recently partnered with the Philippine Biochar Association (PBiA) in a project to produce activated biochar as possible sustainable livelihood.
Biochar is charcoal produced from plant matter and stored in the soil as a means of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Benguet Corp., which has been in the mining industry for a century, was cited by new MGB Director Mario Luis Jacinto as one of the good examples of responsible miners in the country.