SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/31 March) — Local environment officials and advocates expressed both wonderment and anger over why a large-scale nickel mining firm which has been penalized several times for environmental violations was spared from the suspension and closure orders imposed by Environment Secretary Regina Lopez.
Roger de Dios, regional director of Mines and Geosciences Bureau for Caraga Region (MGB-Caraga), described Century Peak Corporation (CPC), which operates in Loreto town in Dinagat Island as a “recidivist environmental violator.”
In a February 22 memorandum order, de Dios barred CPC from transporting and shipping ore for the company’s failure to meet its “social and environmental obligations.”
In his order addressed to CPC president Wilfredo Keng, de Dios noted that CPC has not “satisfactorily complied” with its “social and environmental commitments” since 2015.
It was not the first time that CPC had received a warning from MGB-Caraga for its environmental record and inability to implement government-mandated financial assistance for its host communities.
On December 22 last year, MGB-Caraga warned CPC for serious violations including the low accomplishment on its Social Development and Management Program (SMDP).
SDMP funds—equivalent to 1.5 percent of a mining company’s annual operating cost—should be spent on livelihood, education, health, public infrastructure and socio-cultural programs in the community.
MGB-Caraga also found that CPC had repeatedly failed to obtain tree-cutting permit or conduct an inventory of the trees that were destroyed during its operations, and has not secured a foreshore lease for its causeway.
“This company is really “pasaway’ (unruly) and very hard-headed,” de Dios said.
MGB-Caraga records showed that CPC has been warned many times for violations since 2013.
A March 27, 2013 memorandum signed by de Dios showed that the company’s mining practices were found to be “manifestly deficient or lacking in compliance to sound and responsible mining practices.”
Asked why CPC had continued to operate despite the violations, de Dios explained that he was unable to act against its violations after his March 2013 memorandum, as he was placed on a “floating status” by then MGB Director Leo Jasareno in May of the same year.
Jasareno subsequently assumed De Dios’s post, placing himself as the concurrent MGB-Caraga director until 2016 when President Rodrigo Duterte booted him out of office.
Meanwhile, local environmental watchdog Caraga Watch has questioned CPC’s non-inclusion in the list of suspended and closed mines, following a nationwide mine audit conducted by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
“It has been shown repeatedly that Century Peak has a bad record not only in environment but in the social aspect as well, so we’re puzzled why it was not closed, or even suspended,” said Rev. Pio Mercado, Caraga Watch spokesperson.
Even de Dios himself was perplexed. “MGB only played a supporting role during the DENR mine audit last year. We helped in logistics but we were not part of the audit per se, so I’m also wondering why Century Peak’s past and continuing violations were not taken into account by the DENR auditors,” De Dios said.
Jasareno led the mining audit team before he was replaced by Duterte in October 2016.
Surigao del Norte 2nd District Rep. Robert Ace Barbers accused Jasareno of granting special favors to certain mining firms
Lopez, however, defended Jasareno, who is now her consultant, saying she “he’s clean”.
The secretary had ordered the closure of 14 large-scale mines in Caraga, all of them located in Surigao and Dinagat provinces.
CPC had not responded to emailed queries since last week. (Roel Catoto/MindaNews)