PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has called for “responsible mining.” In line with this, he released a directive to conduct an audit of all existing mining operations in the Philippines and to monitor those that have complied with the ISO 14001 certification.
In response to this order, the new Department of Environment and Natural Resources chief Regina Paz L. Lopez or Gina Lopez, on her first day in office, announced this directive and added that she would like all mining companies to be certified so as to be at par with global standards.
She said, “The ISO 14001 is just another way of saying responsible mining. If you’re responsible, then you have to have the highest standards.”
Certification ISO 14001
ISO 14001 certification prescribes an effective and efficient process for auditing the performance of a mining enterprise. It specifies the requirements for an environmental management system. It indicates good management and control of the environment as aspects of operations in line with global best practices and standards.
A company undergoes assessment, training, documentation and process audits in compliance to an ISO 14001 certification. There is near-continuous monitoring of operations as well as site audits every six months.
Notwithstanding, Sec. Lopez has also called for an entirely new audit, presumably of all mining entities currently in operation.
Suspended mining firms
Contrary to the fear of many that it will take a long time for auditing of all operational mining companies, a total of seven mining firms have already been suspended as of August 2, 2016, for not complying with environmental safety standards. These are Benguet Corp. Nickel Mines Inc., Eramen Minerals Inc., LNL Archipelago Minerals Inc., Zambales Diversified Metals Corp., Hinatuan Mining Corp., Berong Nickel Corp., and Citinickel Mines and Development Corp. All seven mining firms are operating in Luzon – four in Zambales and three in Palawan.
The DENR chief noted the case of Zambales province where mining companies are responsible for polluting the river and degrading the forests.
“In Zambales, if you fly over that, the river is virtually red, they cut 20,000 trees from watershed, the fishpond, the farmland,” Lopez said.
“Before they (mining firms) even consider anything, they have to give the people back their farmland, plant the trees they cut without permit,” she added.
It was followed with the suspension of Claver Mineral Development Corp. operating in Surigao del Norte, the biggest supplier of nickel ore to top market China.
DENR-Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) also suspended Ore Asia Mining and Development and Development Corp. in Doña Remedios Trinidad, Bulacan, the only iron producing mine in the Philippines, for failing to obtain ISO Certification. About 40,000 tons of iron ore were produced in 2015.
“The ore transport permit is the permit that allows the transport of the ore from the mines to the market. So if you withhold the permit, effectively, hauling will stop,” DENR Undersecretary Leo Jasareno explained.
The DENR was able to verify complaints from residents that Ore Asia’s operations have caused siltation in the river that serves as a tributary of Sibul spring, and have discolored the water to reddish brown.
“Kalawang na yung kulay ng (Rust has become the color of the) river,” Jasareno said.
In another press briefing, Lopez reported that the Mining Audit Team of the DENR recommended the suspension of EMIR Mineral Resources Corp. and Mt. Sinai Mining Exploration Corp., both based in Eastern Samar.
Jasareno said the agency found out that these companies are causing siltation to rivers, not practicing engineered mining methods, and causing major damages to forests near the area.
More mining companies to be suspended
According to Lopez, DENR will suspend more of the country’s mines for violating environmental regulations after already suspending operations in 10 sites.
Though she declined to say how many more mines will be suspended, she said there would be absolutely more suspensions.
She insisted, “All the suspensions are absolutely due to environmental reasons, and particular interest is the well-being of the community, that’s my benchmark,” Lopez said in another report.
“There will be large-scale mines to be suspended,” she told reporters at a congressional hearing.
Lopez supports President Duterte’s stance that miners should strictly follow tighter environmental rules or shut down because the country is not gaining what it deserves from this industry.
“We have had mining in this country for over a hundred years. And until now we don’t even have one rehabilitated mine site,” Lopez said in a recent report,
Lopez was the chair of the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission and the ABS-CBN Lingkod Kapamilya Foundation Inc. prior to her new government post. She is the 15th secretary of the department since it was reorganized as the DENR in 1987.