December 11, 2017 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

Environment department presses Malacañang on closure of mines

THE DEPARTMENT of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has asked Malacañang to clear the execution of its closure orders on 23 mining projects, DENR Undersecretary Maria Paz G. Luna said yesterday.

“[The DENR] filed a motion to execute before the OP (Office of the President) because there is a stay of execution; any appeal includes a stay of execution. So we filed a motion to execute without a stay [order]...” Ms. Luna told reporters.

Environment Secretary Regina Paz “Gina” L. Lopez last Wednesday accused Executive Secretary Salvador C. Medialdea of holding on the appeals of the sanctioned miners, in effect preventing President Rodrigo R. Duterte from rendering final judgment.

Mr. Medialdea promptly countered that such appeals go to his office and not to Mr. Duterte directly.

Administrative Order No. 22, issued on Oct. 11, 2011 and which sets rules for appeals to the Office of the President, provides in part that “[t]he execution of the decision/resolution/order appealed from is stayed upon the filing of the notice of appeal...”

“Depending on how the President sees the damage that are going to be caused by a continuation of the operations (of miners) based on the violations baka naman mag-decide siya na ma-grant ang aming (he might grant our) motion to execute,” Ms. Luna said.

Ms. Lopez had also accused Mr. Medialdea of blocking the DENR’s Jan. 20 order requiring each sanctioned miner to put up a trust fund amounting to P2 million per hectare of “disturbed land” before getting a permit to transfer ore it already has in its inventory.

Hours after Ms. Lopez bared her row with Mr. Medialdea, Mr. Duterte said in a speech on Wednesday night in Pasay City that while he could not grant her wish for a “mine-free” Philippines, he supported her move to be “strict” with miners.

Si Gina naman told me frankly, ‘I want the Philippines to be mine-free’,” Mr. Duterte recalled.

Sabi ko: ‘how can we do that?’ We have to amend the law. There’s a mining law which allows mining,” he added.

“And besides we get on the average P70 billion a year ‘yan (in estimated gross value added to the economy) from these mining companies.”

But Mr. Duterte proceeded to say “but I agree with Gina” that mining projects he has seen have damaged their host areas.

Ramon C. Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, said Mr. Duterte’s latest remarks -- especially in the wake of Ms Lopez’s revelation just hours earlier of a spat with one of his close associates -- shows he supported her.

“Duterte still stands by her, despite enormous pressure from mining interests, it seems,” Mr. Casiple said via text.

DENR’s Ms. Luna said her department has so far submitted a motion to execute for just one of the sanctioned mines that had appealed to the Office of the President, but that it expects to submit the 22 others within the month.

“We’re hoping, as soon as possible. I’ve already edited a draft of one resolution of a MR (motion for reconsideration) today. If we can do one motion everyday or every two days, then one month for all the MRs,” she said, noting that all 23 mines ordered closed -- out of a total 41 operating metal mines nationwide -- had appealed to Malacañang.

There were five other operating mines ordered suspended in early February.

Later the same month, DENR had ordered 75 other mines in pre-operation stage to explain why they should not be sanctioned similarly.

Emerging yesterday from a meeting of the recruitment team of the technical working group of the Mining Industry Coordinating Council -- which is preparing to conduct a separate review of all mines nationwide at industry request -- Ms. Luna said “[h]opefully by Friday next week the MICC can approve the list (of review team members) already.”

“We’re hoping to contract them right after that, if the budget is out,” she added, referring to the P50-million estimated budget for the review.

“Everyone wants it to happen as soon as possible. So the realistic timetable is they can start their travels to the mines, after they are contracted, around May 2.”

MICC estimates the review teams -- which will be composed of five members specializing in social development, economic impact, technical operations, legal compliance and environmental management -- will need three months to complete their tasks.

Before Mr. Duterte assumed office at noon of June 30 last year, the mining industry had already been reeling from a moratorium on new permits that has been in place since 2011 and extended indefinitely through Executive Order No. 79 -- which had established the MICC -- signed by former president Benigno S.C. Aquino III on July 6, 2012. -- Elijah Joseph C. Tubayan