By Janina C. Lim

DENR’s Lopez acknowledges room for improvement in mine audit

Posted on November 02, 2016

THE DEPARTMENT of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said they will make improvements in its nationwide review on non-metal mines, slated to begin within the month, after learning “many lessons” from the audit of the country’s metal mines now in its final phase.

“We’re gonna start na (already) because people suffer. We should do better, We should learn. We learned many lessons,” Environment Secretary Regina Paz L. Lopez said in an interview with reporters last week.

Ms. Lopez cited one of the adjustments she would take should an audit of the metal mines be repeated, one that relates to the selection of members of the audit team.

“For me, if I was to do it over again, I’d involve the scientists more. We had DA (Department of Agriculture), DoH (Department of Health). We hired institutions but not people. You don’t know who they send eh. I wouldn’t hire institutions. You have no guarantee that they’re going to do a good job. Next time I will involve people,” Ms. Lopez said.

Sought for comment, Francis G. Ballesteros, Jr., head of the Public and Regulatory Affairs at Philex Mining Corp., suggested that the regulator should present “clear-cut guidelines” that cover their audit and that mining players “be given due process.”

“Any mistakes possibly done in the first audit should be rectified in the next,” Mr. Ballesteros said in a text message on Monday.

“As to whether or not succeeding audits are necessary, there are enough monitoring mechanisms under the law and rules and regulations that companies comply with, so perhaps no further need,” he added.

Earlier, the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (CoMP) criticized the involvement of the anti-mining civil society organization Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) and their allied grassroots organizations in the audit team in assessing miners’ impact on their host communities.

CoMP requested that the audit, should another round be deemed necessary, involve only DENR personnel and acknowledged experts in the fields.

“I wonder if the Secretary would like to have people with anti-mining sentiments on the audit teams?” Jose Bayani D. Baylon, vice-president for corporate communications of Nickel Asia Corp., said in a mobile message.

Ms. Lopez maintained the inclusion of the ATM does not translate to a biased audit as the group does not echo an anti-mining sentiment but only disapproves “irresponsible mining” in particular.

DENR has sent out show-cause letters along with audit findings to all the respective miners. Mining firms are expected to respond in seven days upon receipt.

Ms. Lopez said a final decision should be made within the week.

The audit named 20 more mines threatened to have their operations halted. This is on top of the 10 mines ordered suspended prior to the audit which started July 8.

The 30 metal mines, either suspended or recommended for suspension, make up nearly three-fourths of the country’s 41 metal mines and account for 55.5% of the country’s total nickel ore production last year.