• Environmental safety is critical, says new DENR chief

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    Environment Secretary Regina “Paz” Lopez said on Friday that an audit of all existing mining operations is in the making as part of a process to weed out illegal and irresponsible miners in the country.

    “I’m not against the mining industry but I’m against suffering. If they cause suffering [we will have to shut them down],” Lopez told reporters on her first day in office as a member of President Duterte’s team.

    The audit of existing mines, she added, is to determine if they are safe for the country. It would take a month to complete.

    Lopez, the former chairperson of ABS-CBN Foundation and an environmentalist, said that the minerals development industry should change their methods, promoting common good, if they wish to continue operations.

    The DENR chief earlier said that the choice is simply between foreign investors and Filipino people. “Doesn’t matter if it is large-scale or small-scale, but if you kill the environment, is it worth it?” she said.

    The economic growth of the country, she stressed, need not be build on the suffering of the people, particularly the marginalized farmers and fisher folks who have been directly affected by mining operations.

    Meanwhile, the director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), Leo Jasareno, said that 70 percent of the 42 metallic mines in the country have yet to secure International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 14001 certification which is mandated under DENR Administrative Order (DAO) 2015-07 signed by Environment Secretary Ramon Paje early last year upon the recommendation of the MGB and the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB).

    DAO 2015-07 institutionalizes an environmental management system that ensures the adherence of local mining operations to international standards, particularly the ISO 14001 certification, as a measure of responsible mining.

    It stipulates appropriate measures to be put in place to achieve minimal negative impacts of mining on the environment, Jasareno said. It also requires mining contractors to comply with mining and environmental laws.

    The DAO covers all holders of valid and existing Mineral Agreement (MA) and Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) that are in the operating period.

    Holders of MA or FTAA that are engaged in metallic mining operations are required to secure the ISO 14001 certification within one year from the date of said DAO; while other holder of MA or FTAA filing for the feasibility of metallic mineral mining should obtain the ISO 14001 certification within one year from receipt of the order approving the feasibility exploration.

    MA or FTAA engaging in non-metallic mining, meanwhile, have the option to obtain ISO 14001 certification within one year period after which a deadline will be set for compliance

    The MGB chief said that 30 percent of the companies in operation have secured ISO certificate—many of them now holding higher ISO certificate than what is actually required to operate in the country. The 70 per cent without ISO certificate have requested for an extension and the majority has their application for certificate in process.

    Without the ISO 14001 certificate, the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) will be suspended and no Ore Transport or Mineral Export Permit will be granted.

    The DENR has meanwhile created a team of technical experts to review the mining operations of all MA or FTAA to ensure compliance with environmental standards.

    Meanwhile, emphasizing the need for the agency to be pro-active and ensure that the environment is protected and natural resources are utilized sustainable manner, Lopez said that “integrity, public service and the common good are the key deciding factors for any decision that will be taken.”

    All industries, she said, “must bear in mind that the common good is paramount in their operations and not the money they make.”

    She also said that she recognizes and appreciates the importance of creating space for the participation of civil society, adding that mechanisms will be created in the operations that will guarantee meaningful engagement of the church, NGOs, the youth, farmers and fisher folk. “It is with their collaboration that we will achieve the change we need,” she said.

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