Corporate News

By Janina C. Lim, Reporter

Award-winning miners hope to avoid suspension

Posted on November 21, 2016

SEVERAL metal miners, who were honored at the Presidential Mineral Industry Environmental Awards (PMIEA) last week, expressed confidence they will be cleared despite the results of a government-led audit that recommended them for suspension.

“We’re always confident that we will be vindicated. This just provides further proof,” Michael Wilkes, president and CEO of Melbourne-based OceanaGold Corp. said in a late Friday interview on the sidelines of the awards night in Baguio City.

OceanaGold (Philippines), Inc. won the PMIEA for a second straight year in recognition of its Didipio gold-copper project which straddles the provinces of Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino. The company also bagged the highest rank for the Safest Mining Operations Awards for the metal mines category and was third runner up for the Best Mining Forest Program for 2016.

To recall, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-led audit showed OceanaGold’s operations were beset with social issues. The province of Nueva Vizcaya is also requesting the government to cancel its financial or technical assistance agreement (FTAA).

Mr. Wilkes clarified that OceanaGold’s FTAA for its Didipio mine covers citrus plantations that are far from the mine site, adding that these plantations are not tended thoroughly because of the farms lack irrigation and proper roads to bring their harvest to markets.

“Agriculture and mining should coexist together. It’s not one or the other,” Mr. Wilkes added.

Miguel Alberto V. Gutierrez, president of SR Metals, Inc., said receiving the award comes as a relief after the company was identified as one of 20 miners that face suspension after the two-month long audit.

“It’s more of a relief. I think it’s the same with the miners during these past few months,” he told BusinessWorld in an interview after Friday’s awards night in Baguio City. SR Metals was runner-up for the safest mines awards for the metal mines category this year.

He added that the audit, now on its final phase, however, helped push miners to shape up.

“[In] a way it’s good that there was a shock factor as far as how she (Environment Secretary Regina Paz Lopez) handled this. There’s really some that are not really practicing responsible mining or maybe also the responsible miners have to do better. Coming in that way, it helps. Parang wake up call. Hopefully its only that way. Not mining closure but responsible mining,” Mr. Gutierrez said.

SR Metals, which currently has operations in Agusan del Norte, was recommended for suspension due to its use of a provincial road as a private/mine road, according to the audit summary report. The report also showed that the local government in the area has filed a petition for the cancellation of its mineral production sharing agreement.

The PMIEA is established through Executive Order 399 to recognize miners’ exemplary performance in the aspects of environmental management; safety and health; and social development. Recipients are evaluated by an eight-member selection committee composed of the government and the private sectors and chaired by the DENR secretary.

The selection of candidates and the winners of the awards themselves is approved by the president himself.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte, in a message published in the catalog of the 63rd Annual National Mine Safety and Environment Conference (ANMSEC), commended the Philippine Mine Safety and Environment Association for “helping the government in upholding the law.”

Mr. Duterte noted the mining industry contributes “greatly to the growth of our economy,” a reversal from his earlier description of mining as a “sunset industry,” criticizing it for destroying the environment and contributing little to the national economy.

“But we have to make sure that all mining activities comply with the government’s economic, health, and environmental standards,” Mr. Duterte added.

The nationwide crackdown against miners has left 20 mining firms facing possible suspension. This brings to more than three-quarters of the country’s total metal mines those that are either facing suspension or threat of such order.

These mines, both suspended and identified for suspension, make up 55.5% of last year’s nickel output of the Philippines.

The country has since been the top supplier of nickel ore to China, the world’s biggest consumer of the metal, after Indonesia banned raw ore exports in 2014.