SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/05 February) – Saying it wanted to clarify some legal issues first, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) in Caraga Region had again refused to enforce an almost 2-year old temporary environment protection order (TEPO) against a mining company in Cantilan, Surigao del Sur.
Newly-installed MGB director Roger A. de Dios said his office will refer to their central office the legal action to take on the order against Marcventures Mining and Development Corporation (MMDC).
On 10 November 2010, the local government of Cantilan filed a petition for injunction at the Regional Trial Court Branch 41 in the same town against MMDC for failure to consult them and the residents, threatening the water source of local communities and the livelihood of fisher folk and farmers, among others.
Judge Alfredo P. Halad granted the petition on the same day, but it was only on May 2011 that the court affirmed its decision.
MMDC and another mining company, Carac-an Development Corporation, are operating within the 43,601-hectare Cantilan-Carrascal-Madrid Watershed which is proclaimed as a water forest reserve through Presidential Proclamation No. 1747 dated March 2009.
The same watershed is serving at least 3,335 hectares of agricultural lands and 3,346 farmers in these three towns.
De Dios said he was not privy to the case as he was new to the post.
He said he will also seek clarification from MGB Director Leo Jasareno on his memorandum to then MGB regional director Alilo Ensomo to implement the court order.
Jasareno issued the memorandum in keeping with his promise during a hearing called by the House committee on environment and natural resources on Aug. 17, 2011 that he would enforce the court order. Ensomo, however, did not comply saying his office was not a party to the case and there was no direct order from the court to enforce it.
“We will bring this matter back to Manila for their legal opinion,” De Dios said.
“In the first place the TEPO is only good for 72 hours,” Jerry Bayana, a staff at MGB 13 said.
Sec. 8 of the Rules and Procedures for Environmental Cases states that a TEPO is “effective for only 72 hours from date of receipt of the TEPO by the party or person enjoined.”
However, the same provision adds that “the court shall conduct a summary hearing to determine whether the TEPO may be extended until the termination of the case.”
In a telephone interview the petitioners’ lawyer, Perry Eugenio, said the decision clearly stated that the TEPO would subsist “until it is lifted by the court.”
“De Dios was lying when he said it is just 72 hours because the court clearly stated its position. It is also a lie that they are not party to the case because the court is also clear that all agencies concerned are parties to this, and that includes the MGB. They cannot say they are not part of this,” Eugenio said.
He said no court is presently handling the case after Halad inhibited himself after his son became a lawyer for MMDC.
The case was raffled in Tandag, Surigao del Sur and in Surigao City. In both instances, the judges inhibited themselves, Eugenio said.
He added a letter sent to Supreme Court administrator Justice Midas Marquez had remained unanswered.
Meanwhile, a group said it may file an administrative case against MGB officials if they would still refuse to implement the TEPO.
Emma Hotchkiss, chair of the Nagpakabana na Carcanmadcarlanon (Concerned Carcanmadcarlanons) said “filing of cases including before the Ombudsman will surely follow if the MGB will not act within 30 days.”
Carcanmadcarlan stands for five towns in Surigao del Sur namely Carasscal, Cantilan, Madrid, Carmen and Lanuza.
Hotchkiss, Msgr. Florio R. Falcon of the Diocese of Tandag, Datu “Dagsaan” Jimmy Bat-ao of Cantilan, Almer G. Senados of the local fisher folk group, Chito Trillanes representing Cantilan town and Balaod Mindanaw trooped to the MGB regional office here on January 31 for a dialogue with de Dios.
Hotchkiss said that during the dialogue de Dios used the same argument cited by Ensomo in not enforcing the court order, and told them instead that they can file a case against erring officials.
She said she was exasperated on MGB’s inaction arguing that a court order cannot be ignored “unless a new one is in effect”.
“What are they supposed to be doing? Is this not their job as a government agency to discipline erring mining companies? ” she said in a telephone interview.
Falcon said the TEPO was issued primarily to protect the environment from further destruction pending an investigation into alleged violations.
“But the MGB spent more than two years doing nothing,” he said.
Hotchkiss said de Dios refused to give her a copy of the ore transport permit (OTP) he issued this year to the mining company even without the permit from the local government concerned.
When she raised her voice and told de Dios that she is entitled to have a copy since she is a party to the case against Marcventures, an MGB staffer offered to give it to her if the LGU would write their office.
Trillanes said “the agency’s arrogance in issuing the OTP despite the mining company’s lack of business permit is an affront to the power of the local government unit.”
A notice posted at the MGB office entrance said business permit obtained from the municipal or provincial government is one of the requirements for the OTP. (Vanessa Almeda/MindaNews)