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By Janina C. Lim

Miners pin hopes on appeal to Palace

Posted on February 07, 2017

MINERS are banking on a fair hearing when they raise to President Rodrigo R. Duterte their plea against sanctions imposed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for alleged violations of conditions of their permits, even as the chief executive last week voiced support for the regulatory ruling.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte delivers his speech during his attendance to the 2017 BIR-LTS (Bureau of Internal Revenue -- Large Taxpayers Service) Tax Campaign Kick Off held at the Reception Hall of PICC in Pasay City on Monday, January 6, 2017. -- KRIZJOHN ROSALES
“He (Mr. Duterte) said he supports it as long as it’s fair and legal,” Ronald S. Recidoro, Legal and Policy vice-president of the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (CoMP), said in a telephone interview yesterday.

“What we’re saying is that it’s both unfair and illegal.”

CoMP yesterday separately issued a statement attributed to its chairman, Artemio F. Disini, saying: “To the administration of President Rodrigo R. Duterte, we respectfully submit that the acts of the DENR Secretary-designate last Feb. 2 announcing the suspension or closure of certain mining operations under the guise of ‘healing the hurt’ were irresponsible, unfair and illegal.”

The group argued that, in moving to shutter 23 metal mines and suspend five others, Environment Secretary Regina Paz L. Lopez “has effectively established a mining moratorium in the Philippines, trampling on the Philippine Mining Act... that she had sworn to uphold and implement...” even though 12 of the 41 metal mines in the country passed DENR’s audit, which began in July 2016.

Ms. Lopez -- who had said affected miners may still appeal DENR’s decision to Mr. Duterte himself -- was not able to respond to a request for comment as of early yesterday evening.

CoMP said that Ms. Lopez “has trained her guns on the legitimate operations, while turning a blind eye to unpermitted, undocumented, non-taxpaying and non-compliant mining operations who are the real violators oft the environment.”

The report of the technical review committee which the DENR formed in November last year recommended as sanctions suspension of operation, suspension of environmental compliance certificate (ECC), non-issuance of ore transport permit, and/or payment of fines.

“I think... once he (Mr. Duterte) sees na dinisregard ‘yung review conducted by MGB and that MGB was effectively ignored in the whole process... if he sees na the MGB findings say otherwise, I think it will have that weight kasi inaral talaga nila (Mines and Geosciences Bureau, which forms part of DENR’s technical review committee for the mine audit)...” CoMP’s Mr. Recidoro said yesterday.

Mr. Duterte, after DENR released its findings on Feb. 2, voiced support for Ms. Lopez, saying in a speech later that same day: “You know, I support her and there was never a time that I told her to slow down a little bit... today she’s insisting on closure of so many and I support her.”

Malacañang yesterday sidestepped a question on how it could be objective in hearing miners’ plea when Mr. Duterte has already voiced his support for DENR’s decision, with Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Martin M. Andanar saying via text: “We defer to DENR on your question... sa kanila mo na kunin yung sagot (get the answer from the department).”

In its statement yesterday, CoMP again enumerated the economic impact of the impending closure or suspension of more than three-fifths of the metal mines in the country, including 1.2 million workers and their dependents, as well as foregone local tax payments and some $22 billion worth of investments in the pipeline.

An estimate the department released last weekend showed affected miners -- those to be shuttered and those to be suspended -- accounted for 40.971% of industry jobs in 2015, as well as 41.425% of taxes collected and 22.463% of investments.

Ms. Lopez has referred to MGB data showing the industry contributed just 0.5% to the country’s jobs and 0.6% to gross domestic product in 2016’s first three quarters.

Miners have been reeling from unfriendly policies since a moratorium on new permits the past administration of former president Benigno S. C. Aquino III had put in place in 2011.

And the latest industry data continue to bare the sector’s woes. MGB reported last Feb. 1 that value of metal mineral production dropped eight percent to P100.56 billion last year from 2015’s P109.84 billion, blaming “[p]oor base metal price, a string of mine suspension and... non-operation due to unfavorable weather conditions” for the sector’s “lackluster performance.”

At the Philippine Stock Exchange, mining and oil continued to reel from the fallout from DENR’s action, losing 0.28% -- the only one of six sectoral indices to retreat even as the bourse followed Wall Street’s rise and joined gains across much of Asia.

In a disclosure on Monday, Marcventures Holdings, Inc. -- one of the miners whose projects have been marked for closure -- said it “strongly” felt that the DENR declaration was made “arbitrarily and hastily; completely lacking of the due process of law.”

“We are confident that Marcventures can overturn the supposed findings considering our prior legal right,” the firm said, adding that it intends to proceed with business operations and start mining when the season starts next quarter.

“We hope to receive the notice or order from the DENR so we can present our side and overturn the supposed findings.”

Oriental Peninsula Resources Group Inc., told the stock exchange yesterday that the suspension of the ECC of its subsidiary, Citinickel Mines and Development Corp., has “no immediate impact” on the company’s operations and financial conditions since its project had already been suspended before the mine audit began.

In a statement, Global Ferronickel Holdings, Inc. said its subsidiary Platinum Group Metals Corp. -- one of those ordered to close down -- is “not in violation of any laws, rules or regulations, and the allegations against the company have no factual basis.”

The aforementioned miners also noted that they have yet to receive a formal order from the DENR regarding the matter.

CoMP had asked Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III to convene the Mining Industry Coordinating Council, which he co-chairs with Ms. Lopez, to discuss the DENR action, but a check with his office yesterday showed it was still finding out whether the group can have a quorum should it meet this week.