THE Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has given Ipilan Nickel Corp. (INC) until today, May 24, to explain why no criminal charges should be filed against it for its indiscriminate cutting of trees in the town of Brooke’s Point in Palawan Province.
The show-cause order was issued by DENR-Mimaropa Regional Director Natividad Bernardino based on a directive from Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, who had ordered a full investigation into the cutting down of thousands of trees within its mining area even after the DENR had ordered a stop to its operations.
Cimatu himself saw the extent of the destruction caused by Ipilan’s tree-cutting activity during an aerial inspection and a dialogue with officials of the company and the local government over the weekend. The massive tree-cutting drew indignation from residents, led by Mayor Mary Jean Feliciano.
Initial reports showed that Ipilan felled around 7,000 trees within 30 hectares of the 353 hectares of land covered by its mineral production sharing agreement or MPSA with the DENR.
Although the company has an existing one-year tree cutting permit expiring on May 26 this year, the same was deemed no longer effective since December last year when the DENR, under then Secretary Gina Lopez, cancelled the firm’s environmental compliance certificate (ECC).
Ipilan was given three working days from receipt to submit its reply, after which the DENR would issue a resolution. Records show that Ipilan, through its resident manager Ferdinand Libatique, received the order on May 19.
Bernardino said that unless properly explained, what Ipilan did was “contrary to law and sufficient ground to file a criminal complaint in a court of law.”
“We wish to state that with the cancellation of the ECC, all related mining activities including [its]tree-cutting permit are likewise deemed cancelled,” Bernardino said.
For its part, Ipilan welcomed Cimatu’s visit to its site recently and asserted that the company complied with all local laws and regulations in its tree-cutting operations in Palawan.
“We will work closely with the new DENR leadership and provide all the necessary information to show that we have followed the applicable laws and regulations in good faith,” said Atty. Dante Bravo, president of Ipilan.
The company has an MPSA with the government and holds the exclusive right to conduct mining operations in Brooke’s Point covering 2,835 hectares, of which 260 hectares have been partially declared as mining area.
On December 20, 2016, former DENR Secretary Gina Lopez issued a letter stating that the Environment Compliance Certificate (ECC) of INC was deemed cancelled due to the company’s failure to implement the project within the five-year period from its issuance on October 8, 2010.
But the company said records show it has undertaken numerous programs and projects in coordination with, and as acknowledged by, the DENR.
“The cancellation of INC’s ECC is a subject of a pending motion for reconsideration. Under the Revised Administrative Code, the pendency of a motion for reconsideration stops the effectivity of an order of a department,” Bravo added.
Ipilan said it was issued a Special Tree Cutting and Earth-Balling Permit by the DENR on May 25, 2016 with a validity of one year, allowing it earthball 14,439 trees and cut 13,490 trees in an area covering 52 hectares.
Contrary to reports, Bravo said Ipilan’s activities have only affected a fourth of the allowable limit strictly within the areas stated in the permit.
“Transparency is a fundamental part of our corporate culture… That is why there is no truth, and we have records to prove it, behind recent reports that we refused entry to representatives of the DENR who visited our site to check on our tree-cutting activities,” Bravo said.
He added that Ipilan produced a total of 21,424 seedlings with 99 percent survival rate since December 2015, and that these seedlings will replace the affected trees in the area.