DENR Secretary Gina Lopez Suspends 3rd Mining Firm, Orders Audit, Moratorium on New Projects

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QUEZON CITY —  Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Regina Paz Lopez has ordered an audit of all operating mining firms and a moratorium on new mining projects in line with the Duterte administration’s pronouncement of responsible mining.

This developed as President Duterte threatened to cancel the permits of mining companies if they are found remiss in their reforestation commitments.

Duterte identified the San Roque Metals Inc. reportedly owned by Miguel Alberto Gutierrez and Eric Gutierrez as skirting the country’s laws and causing environmental damage in Tubay town in Agusan del Norte.

“Gutierrez, (you) cannot destroy Tubay in Agusan del Norte,” the President said.

“You’re supposed to plant trees. Ngayon, pag wala akong makita na kahoy tumutubo dyan, I’ll cancel your paper. Kung multinational ka… Wala,” he added.
The nickel mining company has been ordered closed after authorities found they exceeded the extraction limit of minerals. The firm challenged the government ruling but lost the case before the Supreme Court, which affirmed it was guilty of excessive extraction of minerals.


Meanwhile, Lopez suspended the operations of a third nickel mine in less than two weeks and again warned miners not to violate environmental laws.

Lopez identified the suspended mining firm as Berong Nickel Corp’s mine in Palawan because of a spill that affected corals.

Lopez said while the spill may not have been intentional, company authorities “really need to get their act together.”

She described Palawan as “the number one (tourist) island destination in the entire planet.”

A top official of unlisted Berong’s stakeholder DMCI Holdings, Inc. said he was not aware of the suspension order and the spill incident.

DMCI owns Toledo Mining Corp, which has management control over the Berong project. Berong Nickel, which last year produced 868,000 tons of nickel ore, is a joint venture of Toledo Mining and another Philippines-listed firm, Atlas Consolidated and Mining Development Corp.
The Palawan nickel mine is the biggest of five slapped with suspension orders in the past two years, including two early this month.

“There will be a comprehensive review of the mining claims of concessions given, and in the interest of the common good and to ensure that the concerns of the helpless and the impoverished are addressed,” said Lopez in her memorandum order. Lopez said the audit covers all operating mines, even mines under suspension or under maintenance status; while the moratorium will cover the acceptance, processing and/or approval of new mining projects for all metallic and non-metallic minerals.

She said auditing of mining firms is important to determine the adequacy and efficiency of the environmental protection measures of each mining operation; identify gaps in environmental protection measures; and determine the appropriate penalty in case of violations of the mining and environmental laws.

Lopez said she expects the audit to be completed by August this year.

“I am less interested in the documents than on what is happening on 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,” she said in a text message to the media.

The new DENR chief earlier said that an International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 14001 Certification- Environmental Management Systems (EMS) “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,” she said.

As of July 11, there are 17 mining companies out of 27 who are members of the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) that are ISO 14001-compliant.

The companies that are fully compliant are Benguet Corp., Lepanto Consolidated Mining Co., Philex Mining Corp., OceanaGold Philippines Inc., Benguet Corp. Nickel Mines Inc., Eramen Minerals Inc., LNL Archipelago Minerals Inc., Rio Tuba Nickel Mines Corp., Filminera Resources Corp., Carmen Copper Corp., CTP Construction and Mining Corp., Greenstone Resources Corp., Hinatunan Mining Corp., MarcVentures Mining and Development Corp., Platinum Group Metals Corp., Philsaga Mining Corp., and Taganito Mining Corp.

The ones that are yet to secure the certification are Berong Nickel Corp., Apex Mining Co. Inc., TVI Resources Development Inc., and Pacific Nickel Philippines Inc.

Ms. Nelia Halcon, COMP executive vice president, assured that all member companies are committed to complying fully with ISO 14001 and keeping up with these standards.

Halcon also assured that the Chamber will not balk in its advocacy for responsible mining.

“The Chamber will continue policing its ranks, ensuring that our members will abide by the highest environmental standards, abide by our obligations to government and continue nurturing for our communities,” she noted.

Lopez, however, said that an ISO 14001 certification would not save mining companies from her more stringent environmental requirement.

“Even if the company is ISO-certified, if they are endangering or having adverse effects on the lives of the communities their operations 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.

The audit will cover some 105 metallic and non-metallic mines nationwide — including quarrying and small-scale mining.

In going after small-scale mining activities, Lopez said 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.

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