Tue, Feb 07, 2017 - Page 11 News List

Philippine audit advised mining freeze: sources

Reuters, MANILA

A team that reviewed an audit of Philippine mines has recommended suspension of operations and payment of fines for environmental violations, rather than the closure of 23 mines ordered by the minister overseeing the process, two people with knowledge of the matter said.

Philippine Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Regina Lopez on Thursday last week ordered the mines shut, saying many were operating in watersheds. The mines to be closed account for half of nickel ore output by the world’s top supplier of the metal. Another five mines were suspended.

The decision has angered the nation’s mining industry, with miners saying the shutdowns would affect 1.2 million people and some vowing to overturn the ruling.

However, the review team that advised on the process believed some of the violations, which included insufficient rehabilitation of mined areas, absence of tree-cutting permits and construction of alternate haul roads, were rectifiable and did not warrant permanent closure, one of the people said.

“She [Lopez] is the boss, she has all the discretion,” the person said. “The only question is what was her basis in her decision?”

Lopez, a long-time environmentalist who took over the department that oversees the mining sector in June last year when Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte came to power, has declined to release the recommendations of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau review team.

“What’s important here is the decision I make as cabinet secretary, not the recommendations ... Don’t try to make things complicated,” Lopez told reporters. “You cannot have any kind of mining operations in a watershed. Water is life.”

Damage to watersheds and siltation of coastal waters where the mines are located were the major reasons that led to Lopez’s decision to shut them down, a second person with knowledge of the matter said.

“The secretary herself went to the mining sites, and she personally reviewed the documents and that led to the decision,” the person said.

Lopez launched the environmental audit of the mines in July last year, initially suspending 10 and saying 20 more were at risk of being halted.

The bureau’s review team began examining the audit results and the responses from miners in December last year, one of the sources said.

Members of the review team were banned from Thursday last week’s briefing, according to a mining industry group and one of the sources.

Not allowing bureau personnel to attend the press conference “leaves a lot of doubt in the fairness of the entire process,” Chamber of Mines of the Philippines chairman Artemio Disini said in a letter to Philippine Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez on Friday last week.

Dominguez has expressed concern over the looming job losses.

“There has to be due process,” said Vicente Lao (劉國川), owner of chromite producer Mt Sinai Mining Exploration and Development Corp, which was ordered to close.

Australian miner OceanaGold Corp, which was ordered suspended, said it “will not rule out commencing proceedings to appeal to a higher authority, and seek to stay and overturn the order” once it receives it.

This story has been viewed 2868 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top