THE Chamber of Mines of the Philippines called for the immediate convening of the interagency Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) to look into the basis of what the group claimed as arbitrary mine closure and suspension orders issued by Environment Secretary Regina Paz Lopez.
The group also claimed that her decision “has been undertaken without due process.”
In a February 3 letter to MICC co-chairperson and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, COMP Chairman Artemio Disini alleged that publicly announcing the closure and the suspension of 28 mining operations without due process will have detrimental and far-reaching impact on the economy, the mining industry and the country.
Lopez called for a press conference on Thursday and announced the conclusion of a months-long audit of mining companies and the accompanying penalties against mining operations that supposedly violated mining and environmental laws.
“The executive branch has been advocating transparency in its policies and programs, and, on this basis we feel that we have the right to know the process involved and the results of the audit,” Disini told Dominguez.
Disini also questioned Lopez’s move to ban Mines and Geosciences Bureau personnel from attending the press conference, considering that it is the agency directly regulating the mining sector.
“The questions were not justifiably answered during the press conference and this leaves a lot of doubt in the fairness of the entire process,” he said.
On Thursday, Lopez ordered the closure of some 23 mines and suspended five other companies due to alleged environmental violations. In the process, she ignored recommendations by the mining audit review committee, which she created for the task.
Lopez, who conducted aerial inspections of mining operations, declined to reveal how she came up with the decision, when asked by members of the media for a copy of recommendations by the review committee.
She also refused to release the complete results of the audit, saying that it is “too complicated. I am in no obligation to let you know what’s happening here. MGB took six months to review the audit. MGB has been really, really slow and I’m not happy with them at all,” she said.
In a press conference on Friday, COMP executive vice president Nelia Halcon questioned anew the “bias and partiality” of the audit and Lopez’s statements early on—after she was appointed to the Cabinet position by President Rodrigo Duterte—that she does not like mining and would like to see mines closed.
“It is hard to convince someone who has a mindset against mining,” Halcon said, pointing her index finger her
temple in an apparent disgust over the latest DENR decision.
“Social justice, whatever that means, you are looking at a fairy tale situation, which never happens even in an industrialized country,” she added.
Miners are now considering filing cases against Lopez even if she is no longer the DENR Secretary, Halcon said.
“Writing to the MICC is the first option. To pursue filing cases is another option,” Halcon said, recalling President Duterte’s pronouncement that Lopez may not be confirmed by the Commission on Appointment.
COMP Spokesperson Ronald Recidoro said the affected miners would definitely seek legal action if President Duterte rejects their appeal to overturn Lopez’s orders. “She summarily issues the order of closure. It’s a summary execution,” Recidoro claimed.
COMP also claimed that 1.2 million people will be affected, directly or indirectly, by the closure of mining operations. In fact, several mining companies, including Eramen Minerals Inc., earlier suspended by the DENR has already trimmed down their workforce.
On Friday, listed mining companies asked the Philippine Stock Exchange for a voluntary trading halt.
Global Ferronickel Holdings Inc. (FNI), the second largest nickel producer in the country and the largest single lateritic mine exporter in the world, is seeking clarification from the DENR following news reports that Platinum Group Metals Corporation (PGMC) is included on the list of companies that have been closed.
“FNI immediately contacted the office of Sec. Gina Lopez and her staff sent an email containing the list of companies recommended for closure and suspension. PGMC’s name was not on the list but that of Platinum Development Corporation. Platinum Development Corporation is not a subsidiary of FNI and is not related to PGMC,” the company said.
“Any closure of a mine, especially of those operating under valid mineral agreements and permits, entails at least a prior notice of alleged violation, a right to explain, a meaningful investigation and a written decision based on scientific study and empirical proof. These are basic legal requirements,” FNI said.
The noted it has not yet received an official letter from the DENR.
Lawyer Dante Bravo, president of FNI, said the DENR has not issued any show-cause order, let alone the adverse findings against PGMC to warrant even the lightest of penalties such as a reprimand.
“At no time has DENR accused PGMC of destroying the waters in the mine site (with naturally silted water sources owing to its rich laterite deposits) or operating in a watershed area,” he said.
“Instead, on September 28, 2016, the official website of the DENR announced that PGMC is among those who ‘passed’ the mining audit and whom the audit team did not find compelling reasons to suspend,” Bravo noted.
FNI is seeking clarification with the DENR, and the company reserves all rights to exhaust available remedies to protect its stakeholders, he added.