BAGUIO CITY: Environment and indigenous peoples’ (IPs) issues continued to hound the mining industry as the annual national mine and safety meeting opened here on Wednesday.
Affected communities and survivors of mining-related disasters have suffered enough from how mining companies disregard the local population’s safety and welfare and how the mining agency allows erring companies to violate rights of communities, the environmental alliance Center for Environmental Concerns-Philippines said.
Stakeholders in the country’s mining industry were expected at the Summer Capital for the Philippine Mine Safety and Environment Association (PMSEA)-sponsored 63rd Annual National Mine Safety and Environment Conference with the theme “63 Years of Responsible Mining… Moving Forward by Doing it Right.”
Louie Sarmiento, PMSEA president, and Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) officials as well as other mining firm heads and executives led the conference opening.
South African Ambassador to the Philippines Martin Slabber, South Africa Deputy Minister for Mineral Godfrey Oliphant and Philex Mining Corporation president and Chief Executive Officer Eulalio Austin will be the conference’s special guests.
On Friday, mining companies, the MGB and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and other mining stakeholders will march down Session Road here for the Minerals Industry Parade, then proceed to the Melvin Jones grounds for the Mine Safety Field Demonstration and Field Competition.
A testimonial dinner and awards night will cap the week-long conference on Friday at the CAP John Hay Convention Center where winners of the Presidential Mineral Industry Environmental Award for best mining practices in the country, Best Mining Forest Contest, Safest Mines Awards and Best Mines Personalities will be awarded.
On the heels of the annual mining industry conference, the Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC)-Philippines with various organizations reminded the DENR to stand firm on its position against abusive mining companies.
“DENR under Secretary Gina Lopez’s flagship must stay unyielding. More than ever, they need to make sure that through the Mining Audit directive, culpable mining firms be held accountable for [their]crimes against the environment and communities,” Frances Quimpo, CEC executive director, said.
The CEC said that a year after Typhoon Lando hit the country, the town of Santa Cruz, Zambales is still reeling from its adverse effects–nickel laterite contamination in rivers, streams and other coastal areas as well as “red” mud flooding.
An alliance of Santa Cruz residents, blame their experience with nickel mining in the area.
“Until today, no mining firm has been held responsible despite the suspension of Santa Cruz-based mining firms like Benguet Nickel Mining Corporation (BNMI), LNL Archipelago Minerals Inc., Eramen Minerals and Zambales Diversified Minerals under DMCI.”
The CEC observed that there have been several flaws in a recent mine industry audit specifically because of lack of experts.
It cited acknowledgment by Leo Jasareno, DENR undersecretary and head of the mining audit team, that out of 41 operating metallic mines, only 11 passed the audit and 20 more were given 7 days to heed the DENR’s inquiries.
“People`s participation is what we need in order to efficiently audit these mining firms,” Quimpo said.
“Mining communities and grassroots’ organizations are the primary stakeholders since they are directly affected and are the ones who know the actual situation, especially the national minorities, who for the longest time are stewards of our mountains and forests,” she added.
“The DENR’s mining audit should first and foremost have teeth to run after destructive mining companies, and for Filipino communities to incessantly campaign for scrapping of the flawed Mining Act of 1995 and replace it with a pro-environment, pro-people People’s Mining Bill,” Quimpo said.