The local unit of Canada’s TVI Pacific Inc. on Thursday stressed that there is no valid ground to cancel, suspend or terminate its Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) with the Philippine government, saying there is no government proclaimed watershed within its Balabag gold-silver project in Zamboanga del Sur.
“There is neither violation of the terms of the MPSA nor of any law, rule or regulation that would merit its cancellation, termination or suspension,” TVIRD President Atty. Eugene Mateo said in light of the recent proclamation to rescind the MPSAs of 75 mining companies on the basis of their projects being located in “functional watersheds.”
Mateo cited that Section 19 of Republic Act 7942 (or the Philippine Mining Act) provides that applications for mining permit shall not be allowed in “proclaimed watershed forest reserves,” thus preventing the issuance of mining permits in these areas.
“In line with this, we can say that the Balabag Project is not located within the vicinity of any lake, spring or tributary enumerated in the country’s list of proclaimed watershed forest reserves or any critical watershed that are included in the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) and National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS),” he said.
Also, in answer to the assertion that DENR’s review of the said MPSA “shows that the contract area is within a watershed, such that in case mining operation will be pursued therein, said operation, given its extractive and disruptive nature, is likely to cause impairment of the ecological functions of that watershed,” Mateo said the agency neither specified which particular watershed It is referri ng to nor did it indicate what particular functions are being referenced, he added.
Because of the lack of a study or facts with more substantial references to offer than the phrase “likely to cause impairment,” Mateo said that TVIRD deems the cancellation of the MPSA to have no merit.
“The entire land mass of the Philippines is covered by watersheds and all environmental professionals are aware that any project regardless of its kind and location throughout the country is within a watershed,” he said.
He added that agricultural projects, water supply dams, hydropower projects and urban development are just a few activities that have significant impacts on the watershed environment and certainly may impair the ecological functions of watersheds. Some even more so than mining projects.
However, many of these projects have moved forward in spite of this, he said.
By virtue of its MPSA, Mateo said TVIRD was among the mining companies the government had invited to invest in Philippine mining projects and with whom the government signed contracts as partners in mineral resource development.
“On this basis, TVIRD invested in the development of Balabag and established environmental and social programs for the overall sustainability of its surrounding communities including the indigenous Subanens,” he addd.
As of December 2016, TVIRD has invested in excess of P1.5 billion to advance the Balabag project (located within the Balabag MPSA) while head office costs, management time, maintenance expenditures and necessary Capex to bring the project on-stream will easily bring investments to approximately P3.0 billion, Mateo said.
“By entering into these contracts (MPSAs), both government and the company are bound to operate in the spirit of fairness and due process. In the case of violations, the law provides for a procedure that includes the filing of appropriate cases and invoking the arbitration clause of the mining agreements. The law further provides that such decisions should be based on reviews conducted by the DENR’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau,” he said.
It was only on February 17 that TVIRD received from the DENR the show cause letter dated February 13.
“It is on this basis that TVIRD vehemently assails in the strongest terms the arbitrary decision of the DENR to cancel its Balabag MPSA and the complete absence of respect for the sanctity of contracts entered into by both parties for their common development,” Mateo said.
“Moreover, as TVIRD stands on the threshold of operating in Balabag, who then will sustain the development already put in place – and on which the company, the LGU and the communities’ common progress hinge?” he added.
The spirit of social justice
TVIRD Operations Vice President Jake Foronda said that he “believes that social justice is not mutually exclusive to a single entity, organization or agency. But rather, it is the humanization of laws and the equalization of social and economic forces so that justice may be delivered, a principle that the Company has espoused in protecting its communities’ inalienable rights and indigenous cultures, and the equitable distribution of resources.”