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By Janina C. Lim
Elijah J. C. Tubayan

Gov’t eyes ‘experts’ for new mine audit

Posted on February 22, 2017

THE GOVERNMENT BODY organizing a separate audit of mining operations nationwide -- after the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) earlier this month ordered nearly a hundred such projects to shut down, including more than half the country’s 41 operating metal mines -- plans to field “experts” for this task which could start next month, officials said on Monday night.

A miner looking at shacks that house workers and miners at a mining site in the village of Mt. Diwata, in the town of Monkayo in the Compostela Valley, Mindanao in this photo taken on July 17, 2012. -- AFP
At the end of a meeting of the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) technical working group (TWG) that lasted about five hours that day, Finance Undersecretary Bayani H. Agabin told reporters that the review could start next month and will initially focus on the first batch of 28 operational mines -- 23 of which are to be shuttered and five others to be penalized -- that were ordered sanctioned on Feb. 2 for various alleged environmental infractions discovered in DENR’s audit that began in July last year.

That, Mr. Agabin said, could take about three months, after which the review on the succeeding 75 projects still in pre-production stage that were ordered closed on Feb. 14 could follow.

There are currently 311 mineral production sharing agreements, including those of the 98 projects now on the chopping block.

Mines and Geosciences Bureau Assistant Director Danilo U. Uykieng said separately in a telephone interview that results of the MICC review could be used as inputs by President Rodrigo R. Duterte, to whom affected miners plan to elevate their appeal against the DENR sanctions.

“There will be a pool of experts,” Mr. Uykieng said.

“Engagement will come from state universities para wala nang private sector talaga (so that there will not be any private sector influence) para ‘yung accountability purely government,” he added, noting that the group will likely be composed of five teams, each with five individuals with expertise in legal, social, economic, mineral development and environmental matters.

Mr. Agabin told reporters separately that the work of the “fact-finding body” that will be formed “will be investigative and (will be) done in a scientific manner...

“We were thinking, when we discussed it, it should be unbiased so definitely none from mining companies [will have representatives there]. We were thinking professors... from the academe.”

Asked if the review could kick off next month, Mr. Agabin replied: “Dapat. I hope so. We’re already in the third week of February.”

“We will certainly try to start as soon as we can.”

The TWG, Mr. Agabin said, should be able to submit its audit plan for approval by the MICC brass “before March definitely.”

The MICC -- formed under Executive Order No. 79 signed by former president Benigno S.C. Aquino III on July 6, 2012 to oversee reforms to make miners more socially and environmentally responsible while giving the state a bigger share in industry revenues -- is co-chaired by Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III and Environment Sec. Regina Paz L. Lopez who head the Cabinet clusters on Economic Development and on Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation, respectively.

EO 79 also indefinitely extended a moratorium on new mining permits that was put in place the preceding year.

“If you look at the mandate of the MICC, it’s supposed to cover all 311 contracts thus far issued. But we are starting with just the 23,” Mr. Agabin said, adding that the review of the first batch could take “maybe three months.”

Asked how results of this separate audit will be used, Mr. Uykieng replied: “The MICC findings will be an added information for the President to decide if he will consider it...”

DENR has insisted that its crackdown should have minimal impact on the general economy, since mining contributes less than one percent to gross domestic product, but the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines has argued that share does not include indirect contribution such as mineral processing which is counted as part of the manufacturing sector as well as services miners hire like logistics, shipping, transportation, and telecommunications.