Surigao solon wants probe on operation of suspended nickel mining company

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews / 14 Oct) – Surigao del Norte Rep. Guillermo A. Romarate Jr. (2nd District) is calling for a congressional investigation on a Chinese mining company in Claver town in Surigao del Norte for allegedly operating even while under suspension.

The lawmaker filed House Resolution No. 361 earlier this month, directing the House Committees on Natural Resources, Indigenous People and Labor and Employment to investigate the reported continued operations of Shenzhou Mining Group Corporation (SMGC) despite its suspension due to violations of mining and environmental laws.

Romarate noted that the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) suspended SMGC last July 18 due to the company’s failure to address the issue on excessive siltation in the shoreline, which connects the boundaries of the two Surigao provinces.

The siltation allegedly worsened with SMGC’s construction of a settling pond right on seashore.

But SMGC corporate secretary Jacqueline Mel de Leon has denied the congressman’s claim, telling the court that their company has not conducted any mining operation. “The corporation is conducting rehabilitation; that there’s no truth to the allegation of petitioner that the company conducted clandestine operation,” she said.

According to Romarate, Surigao del Sur Rep. Philip A. Pichay and other Caraga congressmen have signified their intention to become co-authors of the resolution.

The lawmaker cited the complaints against the mining company over its alleged non-payment of national and local taxes and royalties to the Mamanwa community, the lumads recognized by the National Commission on the Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) as claimant of the mining concession.

Romarate’s proposed resolution also noted several complaints by employees who accused SMGC of failing to pay salaries and employment benefits.

“It is clear that this mining company violated not only environmental laws but likewise appropriate tax and labor laws and the IPRA (Indigenous Peoples Rights Act). The charges against [SMGC] are piling up and yet it keeps on skirting them,” Romarate said. “Its directors should be made to explain and Congress should conduct an ocular inspection as soon as possible.”

The lawmaker urged the appropriate committees to act, in the form of legislation, on the affected areas, indigenous people, mining workers and employees and tax collecting agencies of the government.

“I personally filed this resolution heeding the strong clamor of my constituents. At its worst, the irregularities cited by the MGB strongly suggest that an environmental disaster is looming. The MGB and the courts have spoken and directed Shenzou Mining not just to suspend operations but to vacate its mining premises as well,” he told reporters.

“From all reports, [SGMC] appears to be violating the orders by being able to still ship ore abroad. Did it continue to pay its obligations and liabilities for taxes and duties, for IP royalties and for salaries and wages? Questions beg to be answered,” he added.

Last July 15, Judge Rufo Naragas, of the Regional Trial Court Branch 41 in Cantilan, Surigao del Sur, ordered SMGC to vacate its mining area. SMGC is the operator of the Claver Mineral Development Corporation (CMDC), which owns 433 hectares in the boundaries of Claver in Surigao del Norte and Carrascal in Surigao del Sur.

But SMGC’s De Leon said that her firm is mindful of the suspension order.

She admitted, though, that they have shipped out ore, but claimed that the MGB, in its March 25 order, has allowed them to clear out the area of the stockpiles as part of the rehabilitation program.

She said they shipped out 200,000 metric tons of ore “with export permits for the purpose.”