DENR order suspending mining applications hailed; others want 25-year moratorium

ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews/05 February) —  The order directing all regional offices of the Mines and Geo-Sciences Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to suspend the “acceptance and processing of new mining applications,”was hailed by representatives of civil society here but quite a number want more than just suspension: they want a 25-year moratorium on mining.

Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said the suspension, contained in Memorandum Order 2011-01 issued on January 18, aims to “ensure that the ongoing cleansing of mining applications shall be successfully implemented pursuant to existing DENR guidelines.”

The order was set to “take effect immediately and shall remain in force and effect until revoked in writing.”

Paje said the order covers “all applications for exploration permit, mineral production sharing agreement, financial or technical assistance agreement, and industrial sand and gravel permit.”

Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda told a press briefing in Malacanang on Friday that when Secretary Peje assumed the post, “he  promised that he will clean the process of mining claims. There were 2,800 mining claims when he assumed office. Right now, he has canceled 500 mining claims. He is also in the process of reviewing 500 more.”
“The instruction right now from his office is not to accept any new applications for mining claims,” he said.
The order, made public only on February 4, came just as controversial issues on overlapping of mining claims heightened in Zamboanga peninsula; flooding in the country’s mining capital in Caraga region caused massive displacement; Murceilagos Bay in Misamis Occidental was declared contaminated with mercury, and mining’s environmental threats caused anxiety to people in South Cotabato.
“We commend the DENR for the issuance of the memo to suspend  mining applications but we also urge the DENR to review approved mining projects and revoke those acquired through the use of force, bribery, deception and which violated the rights of affected peoples and communities,” said Professor Nymia Pimentel Simbulan, executive director of PhilRights Inc, a non-government based in Manila that studied the conditions of indigenous peoples affected by mining claims in Bayog town, Zamboanga del Sur last year.
Jean Marie Ferraris of LRC-KsK/FoE-Philippines in Davao City said the order “is just a suspension and it merely says that the DENR is doing a cleansing.”
She said the latter is not clear. “The people demand a moratorium in mining for 25 years and a review of all existing mining applications and operations. This should be seriously considered by the Aquino government.”

“Mining is not sustainable and will only lead the people deeper in poverty. The DENR should have issued a moratorium on the issuance of permits,” she said, adding, “ maybe they  have awarded permits but there is no more land area  for the applicants, hence the cleansing.”

Regina Antequisa, executive director of Ecoweb Inc., a non-government organization helping indigenous peoples’ delineation of ancestral domain in Iligan and Misamis Oriental’s hinterlands, commented that the DENR memo is just a reaction to the natural phenomenon these people are experiencing with more flooding, landslides and disasters.

“With the calamities we are facing, we are expecting government to formulate responsive order. This is better late than never,” she said.

Carl Cesar Rebuta, project officer of LRC-KsK Manila which is currently pooling relief goods for the flood victims in Surigao del Sur, said the “memo could be an initial step to the clamor for environmental justice but we call on DENR to revoke the permits which violated the contract and communities’ rights over their resources.”

“The government should seriously consider environmental issues and come up with an environmental agenda,” he said.
Victoria Cajandig, a Subanen leader advocating for their rights, said the issuance of the order is “good news but the current mining companies operating in Subanen areas are those that have caused environmental degradation. We are for a moratorium of mining operations in Zamboanga peninsula; not just suspension of mining applications.”
Mark Cervantes, who organized Movement here to educate people on climate change and who is now working in the International Institute for Rural Reconstruction (IIRR) that capacitates community for disaster risk reduction said  government “must localize environmental protection at the community level and  push for community-managed disaster risk reduction as part of community development. To prevent disasters, the government must adopt policies and programs that protect the ecology.”

“If an area is flooded, should we blame climate change? No, because doing so will absolve government officials who have allowed the destruction of our mountains and ecosystem. The fact is, if there is a change in climate but the ecosystems or forests are intact, our ecology can absorb the climate shocks,” he said.

Daniel Castillo, executive director of church-based Dipolog, Iligan, Ozamiz, Pagadian, Ipil and Marawi Committee on Mining Issues (DCMI), said he needs to study the order of the DENR.

Castillo, who is presently attending an environmental summit in Rizal, Misamis Occidental, to discuss with government officials and other participants the issue of mercury contamination and plans for ecological actions in Murceillagos Bay, also said the suspension order is “not enough.”

“ The people of Zamboanga del Norte want stoppage of mining operation because it affects fishers and the communities dependent on rice planting for livelihood. We are working at the provincial level to ban open pit mining and we want to support the effort of the provincial government on this,” he said. (Violeta M. Gloria/MindaNews)