By Janina C. Lim, Reporter

Miners appeal to Palace over DENR trust fund rules

Posted on April 07, 2017

MINERS have once again appealed to President Rodrigo R. Duterte over the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ (DENR) new requirement to pay P2 million per hectare of “disturbed land” into a trust fund prior to removing their ore stockpiles from their mine sites.

Environment Secretary Regina Paz ‘Gina’ Lopez speaks to President Rodrigo R. Duterte during the latter’s meeting with the Cabinet in this photo from the Presidential Communications Operations Office. -- WWW.PCOO.GOV.PH
Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) Central Luzon Officer-in-charge Director Lope O. Cariño said that miners based in Zambales appealed to the Office of the President (OP) last week to allow the transport of their mine output.

“They claim the requirement is redundant,” Mr. Cariño said in a phone interview with BusinessWorld on Wednesday, referring to the argument miners raised against the DENR order.

The DENR’s Memorandum Order dated Jan. 30, required all suspended mines to place in a trust fund of P2 million per hectare of “disturbed land” but did not specify how land will be classified as “disturbed.”

The fund will be used to “further mitigate the adverse impacts of the operation, to the environment and to the affected communities,” the order added.

According to Mr. Cariño, the nickel miners of Zambales argued that the order comes on top of the existing final mine rehabilitation and decommissioning program (FMRDP) fund which is a trust fund that serves nearly the same purpose.

An FMRDP fund is placed in a government depository bank and used for physical and social rehabilitation of areas and communities affected by mining activities and for research on the social, technical and preventive aspects of rehabilitation.

The amount of such payments vary from firm to firm depending on the work program and their commitments approved by government regulators before their operations commence. Firms deposit annually on an installment basis.

Notwithstanding the DENR order to pay into a trust fund, these miners are still permitted to continue their hauling and shipping activities.

“Once they file a notice of appeal to the President... the order will stay,” Mr. Cariño added, clarifying that these appeals to the same office are separate from the firms’ individual letters questioning the Environment department’s order to shut them down.

“They say they will wait for the Office of the President’s decision,” he added.

Sought for comment, Enrique C. Fernandez, president of Eramen Minerals, Inc. one of the four nickel mines in Zambales, said in a text message on Wednesday, in reference to both the closure orders and the additional requirement for the ore transport permit: “We will have to wait what the Office of the President will do.”

The DENR order was issued “with grave abuse of discretion, without legal bases and factual bases” and is “contrary to law,” according to BenguetCorp Nickel Mines, Inc., in its letter dated March 22 and sent to the Office of the President which was e-mailed to BusinessWorld.

The firm said that the DENR requirement, if not stayed, “will cause grave and irreparable damage” to the firm.

Mr. Cariño explained he issued in February the ore transport permits to the Zambales-based companies as the Jan. 30 issued DENR order was received by the MGB Region 3 office only on March 6.

“Kasi ang ano nila dun yung environmental concern. Kasi hinahabol nila ang tag-ulan kahit din naman yung stakeholders they wanted it to be out especially during the rainy season,” Mr. Cariño said.

However, upon receiving the DENR order last month, Mr. Cariño said he had to issue a stoppage order to halt the hauling and shipping activities.

But the appeal to the President remains “more than enough” for miners to continue with their hauling activities and shipments, according to Mr. Cariño.

For her part, however, Environment Secretary Regina Paz L. Lopez said that the order should still be implemented.

“They have to follow the order... even if they’re appealing,” she said in a text message on Thursday.

In addition, MGB Mimaropa Director Roland A. De Jesus confirmed a letter obtained by BusinessWorld which shows the Palawan-based Citinickel Mines and Development Corp. appealing to the Office of the President.

“Yes they filed in March,” he said in a phone interview adding that Berong Nickel Corp. has also filed just recently.

In its letter, Citinickel assailed the additional requirements for the transport of ore.

“Since the condition for the establishment of a trust fund was not yet in existence then, the same must not be treated as a valid requirement,” read the firm’s letter.

As for Hinatuan Mining Corp., based in Eastern Samar, Jose Bayani D. Baylon, vice-president for corporate communications of Nickel Asia Corp. which owns Hinatuan, also confirmed that the firm via text on Wednesday that it has filed an appeal to the OP.

Regarding Claver Mineral Development Corp. in Surigao del Norte, MGB Caraga Director Roger A. De Dios claimed that the firm has expressed its intent to follow suit.

“According to (Prospero A.) Pichay, the resolution for their appeal may come out this week,” Mr. De Dios said in a Thursday phone interview with BusinessWorld.

The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (CoMP) is also contesting the DENR’s new requirement.

“The DENR should cite the law that requires companies to put that up because that is contrary to the previously imposed implementing rules and regulations under the law. Why should they impose that much when you already have rehabilitation funds?” CoMP Executive Vice-President Nelia T. Halcon told reporters on the sidelines of a briefing on Wednesday.

“They should know the law and should know what they’re doing. Sometimes they just do what they want. There should be experts in the DENR to be able to tell the Secretary [what to do],” she added.

In a separate chance interview with reporters with the Environment chief yesterday at the DENR headquarters in QC, Ms. Lopez has reiterated the need for the newly-established trust fund.

“All am asking is for them to give money to farmers, to farmlands they have disadvantaged because of mining.”

Sought for a reaction on the series of appeals miners have been elevating to the President, Ms. Lopez said: “They have disadvantaged the farmers, they should... take care of it. What’s wrong with that? They are making so much money with the stockpiles. They have to take care of the farmers. You? Don’t you think they should?”