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By Ian Nicolas P. Cigaral

MICC starts mine audit Friday

Posted on March 01, 2017

A FRESH government audit of mines nationwide will start this Friday, according to the Finance chief who co-chairs the council that will undertake the review, adding that it will make sure due process was observed in an earlier audit that kicked off in July last year and which resulted in nearly a hundred such projects being put on the chopping block.

“The second meeting of the technical working group will be held this Friday and we are going to start the work to make sure that all the issuances regarding mining were done through due process,” Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III, who co-chairs the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) with Environment Secretary Regina Paz L. Lopez, said in a press briefing in Malacañan Palace yesterday.

The fresh audit was sought by the mining industry after Ms. Lopez announced last Feb. 2 her decision to shutter 23 of the country’s 41 operational mines and suspend five others for violations such as allegedly being located in watersheds and polluting bodies of water nearby, sparking an industry outcry that prompted the MICC to convene a week later.

MICC’s Feb. 9 meeting yielded a resolution for a “multi-stakeholder review” and ensuring that due process, which miners claiming has been lacking, is observed.

Ms. Lopez followed that batch on Feb. 14 with an order to cancel contracts of 75 other projects still in pre-operation stages, saying they were located in watersheds.

The upcoming meeting, which will be held at the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas compound in Manila, will focus on discussion of specific plans of the technical working group and allocation of a budget for the review, Mr. Dominguez said.

“They will present the plan on what they will do and also the budget,” the Finance chief said at the briefing in Malacañang, adding that the review team will be composed of professors, engineers and lawyers.

Affected miners have said they would appeal to President Rodrigo R. Duterte and some said they were ready to take the DENR to court. At least four among the 28 miners sanctioned in the first batch -- Benguet Corp. and subsidiary Benguetcorp Nickel Mines, Inc.; Marcventures Holdings, Inc.’s Marcventures Mining and Development Corp. and Australia-based OceanaGold Corp. -- have separately appealed the Environment department’s sanctions with the Office of the President.

Business groups had initially said the impact of sanctions should not spill out from the industry, but announcement of the 75 other projects for termination spawned warnings of erosion of general investor sentiment.

In the same briefing yesterday, Mr. Dominguez said he told Ms. Lopez that the government just wants to make sure that “whatever findings she makes, sticks,” cautioning that there would be ramifications for not observing due process.

“If in her judgment, the mine has violated the law and she followed due process, I want to make sure that when she closes the mining [project, it] stays closed,” Mr. Dominguez said.

“Because if due process is not followed, two possible consequences will happen: the mine will go to court and the court will give them relief and they will open again,” he explained.

“And, they will probably file for damages against the government for closing them illegally.”

Asked what could happen if results of the MICC review were to contradict those of the Environment department, Mr. Dominguez replied: “Well the evidence will be clear and whoever has the evidence for their stand will prevail.”

“We are part of a team put up by President (Rodrigo R.) Duterte, and we exert all effort to work as team members,” Mr. Dominguez said, referring to Ms. Lopez, a staunch environmentalist.

At the same time, however, the Finance chief added: “You know, being a secretary is not being a crusader.”

“Being secretary is balancing the needs of different sectors of society.”

Ms. Lopez yesterday presided over a media briefing at the Environment department’s headquarters in Quezon City on an alternative economic plan for communities that have been hit by sanctions on mines they host.

“I truly feel that this is the only way we would get our country out of poverty,” Ms. Lopez said of the department’s “tentative” plan to provide livelihood to affected communities.

“When you do extractive industry, you go there, you get the gold and nickel tapos winawasak niya yung kalikasan (and then these operations destroy the environment).”

She said such communities have been dependent on mining projects, hence, are “takot na takot (scared)... kasi mawawalan sila ng trabaho; sino magbibigay ng (because they will lose their jobs; who will now provide) scholarship [for their children]?”

“[S]a (In the) green economy... whether or not we’re there, the government goes there or not,... kaya na nila sa sarili nila (they can live on their own),” Ms. Lopez added.

“‘Yan ang dapat (That’s the way it ought to be).”

She also argued that 95% of revenues generated by mining goes outside host communities, adding that “the green economy... will generate P200 million per month to 25,000 households... Really, really good.”

The plan, which serves “to not only address the impact on jobs and livelihood but also to begin the transition of the economy of these mined areas towards a green economy”, was a result of three weeks of “community-level consultation” in three provinces, according to Environment Undersecretary for Operations Philip G. Camara.

These provinces were Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur and Dinagat Islands where 14 of the 23 operational mines ordered closed are located.

The plan involves development of eco-tourism, organic agriculture, as well as of health and wellness products and services, among other livelihood activities.

“The job-giving of a green economy is so much higher and of better quality than the extractive economy,” Mr. Camara said during the briefing.

He added that the department “is prepared to act even one day one” when mines are actually shuttered to provide for the affected population.

At the same time, a legislative hearing set for today to confirm Ms. Lopez’s appointment has been postponed following a Senate leadership shakeup.

Sought for comment, Ms. Lopez said of the bicameral Commission on Appointments: “I strongly feel that we should not have any individuals there with strong business leanings which will influence and affect the decisions,” naming commission member San Juan Rep. Ronaldo B. Zamora, brother of Nickel Asia Corp. Chairman Manuel B. Zamora, Jr. Rep. Zamora was not answering calls for comment. -- with Janina C. Lim