Environment Secretary Gina Lopez on Thursday announced an order for the closure of 23 mines, mainly for ruining watershed areas and “indiscriminate mining.”
“It is time for social justice. You cannot run your business and affect our farmers and fishermen. This is not acceptable under the Duterte administration and not acceptable under the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources),” Lopez said.
She also suspended five mining firms.
Following the mining industry’s disruption that involved some firms related to several publicly listed companies, the mining and oil index fell by 1.65 percent on Thursday. Shares of Benguet Corp. and Oriental Peninsula Resources Group Inc. slid by 10.38 percent.
Appeal to the President
Lopez said the mine operators could appeal the closure or suspension order to the President.
In a speech on Thursday, President Rodrigo Duterte said he had told Lopez to be fair and legal.
Four of the Zambales mines set to be closed are extracting nickel in a functional watershed, Lopez said.
Three mines in Homonhon in Eastern Samar province, she said, caused the “siltation of coastal waters (and) destruction of the watershed” on the island.
Lopez also ordered the closure of seven mines on Dinagat Islands.
“What happened in Dinagat is social injustice, the mountain was denuded,” she said. “Did you know that there is a natural bonsai forest in Dinagat? We can put an eco-lodge there. I want Dinagat to rest and maximize the bonsai forest for ecotourism.”
She also wanted shuttered seven mines in Surigao del Norte province.
The mines are operating mostly in a watershed and have caused siltation of nearby waters, she said.
“Water is life. To have any kind of mining operations in watersheds—not just proclaimed watersheds, even functional watersheds—is unacceptable. You cannot have any kind of mining operation in a watershed. That’s like saying, ‘The gold or nickel is more important than the water our people drink.’ We will not allow the water of our people to be at risk for any business interest,” she said.
“Especially in 2030, our scientists are telling us we’re going to have a water shortage. Our water levels are going down, climate change is coming,” she added.
She noted that Hinatuan Mining—part of Nickel Asia—caused the “destruction of the island” of the same name.
Half of PH nickel output
Of the mines facing closure, 17 are involved in nickel production. These firms altogether represented about half of the country’s annual nickel output, Lopez said.
The Philippines has been the world’s biggest supplier of nickel since 2012, following Indonesia’s ban on mineral exports.
In the wake of the mine closures, the environment chief said she was considering an “area development approach” in the affected communities, which largely entails developing ecotourism and natural resource-based industries.
She said she planned to use the mine rehabilitation funds from the closed mines for that venture.
Lopez reiterated that she was not opposed to mining but was against the suffering of people in communities that hosted mines.
“I don’t care about the money. I just care that our people should not suffer,” she said.
“Why should they suffer? So that the stock market goes up? What’s more important—the stock market or the well-being of our people?” she added.
Marcventures Holdings (MARC) president Isidro Alcantara Jr. said that while his company’s operations in Surigao del Sur were purportedly in a watershed, “our MPSA (mineral production sharing agreement) gives us ‘prior rights’ under the law.”
He added that “our operations are responsible and the waters in all rivers within MARC are clean.”
Lepanto said it had not violated any environmental laws. —WITH REPORTS FROM DORIS DUMLAO-ABADILLA AND ALLAN NAWAL Philippine Daily Inquirer February 03, 2017