WESTERN Samar Rep. Mel Senen Sarmiento on Monday pushed for a Congressional inquiry on operations of mining companies, considering that four mining accidents have transpired over the last 16 years.
Sarmiento, also secretary general of Liberal Party, made the pitch under his House Resolution 950 which tasks the House Ecology panel to prove the activities of foreign and local mining companies, as well as the unabated black sand mining in Luzon.
Sarmiento cited for mining disasters: the 1.5 million cubic meters of toxic mine tailing from Marcopper Mining Corp. were disgorged into the Maculapnit and Boac Rivers in Marinduque on March 24, 1996; the 5.7 million cubic meters of acidic wastewater spilled into the Sapangkau River in Toledo City, Cebu by Atlas Mining Development Corp. in August 1999; the Lafayette Inc. spilling mine tailings with cyanide which caused fish kills and paralyzed the livelihood of fishermen in Rapu-rapu, Albay and some fishing villages in Sorsogon back in 2005 and the 20 million metric tons of sediment leaking from the tailing pond of Philex Mining Corp. in Tuba, Benguet which flowed into water channels in August 2012.
“Despite extravagant showcases of responsible mining operations, mining companies have violated the country’s environmental laws. After months of recurring leakages, the Philex mine spills had become the biggest mining disaster in the Philippines in terms of volume,” Sarmiento, also the head of the House contingent in the powerful Commission on Appointments, pointed out.
“There is an urgent need for the government to address the prevalent problems resulting from non-compliance of mining companies with environmental laws in all stages of their operations,” Sarmiento added.
Before Congress adjourned for the Lenten break last March 14, House Deputy Speaker Carlos Padilla of Nueva Vizcaya has made the same call in a privilege speech by calling on Congress to amend the Mining Act of 1995 because of various disasters attendant to large-scale mining operations.
Padilla noted that the present law is too lenient, considering that foreign entities can own 100 percent of minerals through Financial and Technical Assistance Agreements (FTAAs), there are more open areas to mining than mining-free zones, the law grants auxiliary entitlements to mining firms such as timber rights, water rights and even the right to use explosives and allows tax deduction yet leaving communities divided and underdeveloped and which traditional livelihoods directly dependent on natural resources destroyed.
Nueva Vizcaya is home to two large-scale mining companies, OceanaGold and FCF Minerals. One of the first FTAA approved under the law is Didipio Gold Project in Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya, now under the operation of Oceana Gold Philippines Inc.
“We saw the increasing number of barricades put up and managed by people who refuse to give up their ancestral lands. We saw numerous provincial and municipal ordinances passed opposing the entry of mining companies in their areas. In light of the foregoing facts, it is high time for Congress to put premium in the human dignity of communities and biodiversity value of our country’s mineral resources,” Padilla argued.
“The impacts of mining are not contained within the mining area. The use of explosives naturally results in deforestation and slope destabilization. Our natural resources cannot be wantonly destroyed in the name of profit,” Padilla added.
On February 14, the House approved Padilla’s House Bill 3667 on third and final reading, a measure which bans mining in Nueva Vizcaya. Violators will be penalized with six to 12 years imprisonment and a fine of P100,000 to P500,000.