ENVIRONMENT Secretary Regina Paz Lopez is coming up with a new set of guidelines and standards to audit all operating mines in the country “because an International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certification is simply not enough.”
In a text message, Lopez said she expects the audit of all existing mining operations, which is part of the process to weed out illegal and irresponsible miners in the country, to be completed by August this year.
“I am less interested in the documents than on what is happening on the ground. My commitment is to the well being of the communities. The farmers, the fishermen, the communities… the quality of their lives cannot be less important than the money companies make,” Lopez said.
Lopez earlier challenged the mining firms to prove “your [continued]existence in this country.”
The country’s big mining lobby has said that 14 out of its 22 members have already secured ISO certification in response to Lopez’s call for all miners to have ISO 14001 certification.
According to her, ISO 14001 “is just another way of saying responsible mining. If you’re really responsible, like really responsible, then you have to have the highest standards and the standard we want for our beloved country is ISO 14001.”
ISO 14001 is considered as a seal of world-class good housekeeping for mining companies.
The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) said more than half of their members have fully complied with the regulatory requirement while the rest are in the process of securing ISO 14001 for their operations.
“We here at the Chamber commend our responsible members and commit to continue our responsible ways until all our member companies have fully complied with ISO 14001,” SAID May Anne Cacdac, COMP spokesperson. “Change is here through responsible mining.”
But Lopez stressed that the ISO 14001 certification would not save mining companies from her more stringent environmental requirements.
“Even if the company is ISO certified, if they are endangering or having adverse effects on the lives of the communities, their operation is still at stake. I don’t just want technical audits. I want an environmental and social audit. It’s the right thing to do,” she stressed.
Audit to cover 105 mines
The audit will cover some 105 metallic and non-metallic mines nationwide including quarrying and small-scale mining.
As of July 2016, Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) Director Leo Jasareno said 70 percent of the 42 operating metallic mines in the Philippines have yet to secure ISO 14001 certific ation for their operations.
Established in 1996, the ISO 14001 EMS standard is a systematic framework to manage the immediate and long-term environmental impacts of an organization’s products, services and processes.
The requirement 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).
Measure of responsible mining
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 in the country.
It certifies that appropriate measures are in place to achieve minimal negative impact of mining on the environment, Jasareno said.
As mandated under Executive Order No. 79, it will also guarantee the compliance of mining contractors with applicable mining and environmental laws, regulations, and requirements in mining operations while gearing towards growth.
The DAO covers all holders of valid and existing Mineral Agreements (MA) and Financial or Technical Assistance Agreements (FTAA) that are in the operating period.
The MA or FTAA holders engaged in metallic mining operations should secure the ISO 14001 Certification within one year from the date of said DAO; while in the case of an MA or FTAA holder filing for a Declaration of Mining Project Feasibility (DMPF) for metallic mineral, the ISO 14001 Certification should be secured within one year from receipt of the order approving the said DMPF.
Meanwhile, Lopez said that the DENR will also go after small-scale mining activities, saying that much needs to be done in fixing the mining sector to ensure the protection of the environment and the people who stand to be affected by highly extractive industries.
“All mining. Anything extractive. This is going to be a holistic audit, social, environmental,” she said.
At present, an estimated 300,000-400,000 individuals are into small-scale mining, with operations being financed by firms and cooperatives.
Under Executive Order No. 79, small-scale mining should be done within a declared Minahang Bayan (people’s small-scale mining area).
There are only five declared Minahang Bayan in the Philippines—including Barangay Maputi, Banaybanay Town, Davao Oriental; Barangay Waso, Llorente Town in Eastern Samar; Buenavista, Quezon; and two others in the provinces of Dinagat Island and Agusan del Sur.
Three years after the signing of EO 79, the MGB has yet to approve new applications for Minahang Bayan permits, making all small-scale mining outside the five areas illegal.