DENR secretary warns erring mining firms of immediate closure

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/05 August) – Mining companies found to have failed to comply with technical and social requirements will be closed at once, Environment Secretary Gina Lopez said.

Lopez was referring to the the 23 metallic mining companies in Mindanao that were undergoing an audit by the Department of Environmen and Natural Resources.

“This is my personal commitment, all those that don’t pass the audit I won’t even waste one hour. Finish. Finish. It’s over. It will not be allowed anymore,” she told a press conference on Thursday at the Ateneo de Davao University.

She said she can’t let people suffer from extractive mining operations that disregard the environment and social justice.

“The audit is not just technical. The audit is also social kung may komunidad na nagdurusa, kung may nagkakasakit hindi pwede yan (to know if there are communities that suffer, if there are people getting sick, it can’t be allowed). We are testing the water, the agriculture, the fishing kung palpak sila dyan (if they fail in that), they are not following the law,” she said.

Leo Jasareno, head of DENR’s Mining Audit Team, said the results of the audit will be completed this month and will serve as basis of the agency’s decision.

“Depending on the violations, the DENR may suspend until the violations are rectified, or in a worse situation, the DENR might cancel the contracts,” he said.

The agency will also start an audit on the 65 non-metallic mining companies in the country next month, he said, but he could not determine how many of these firms are operating in Mindanao.

Lopez added she wanted to develop more eco-zones and agro-forestry sites in the Philippines to earn for the communities a sustainable income.

The official intends to use the P9-billion budget to make “an economic impact of P18 billion” through the agency’s re-greening initiatives and development of more eco-tourism sites.

She cited, for instance, the La Mesa Ecopark and La Mesa Watershed that generate P43 million.

“What if the NGP of which I have P9 billion is put into the areas in the country and in Mindanao in a way which like La Mesa, earns a lot of money. My partners will be the community. We’re gonna do the agro-forestry in between and what I want is reforestation program, the NGP of DENR, will be a major push for economic well-being of Mindanao,” she added.

During Friday’s launch of Stand Firm, Aldous Pitogo, the group’s head countered that mining is not necessarily destructive if firms observe good practices like having rehabilitation programs, respecting human rights, and following the standards as stated for in the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.

Stand Firm pushes for so-called responsible mining. Its members include mining advocates, professionals, and students who “push for policies that address irresponsible mining practices for policies that address irresponsible mining practices and at the same time prioritizes the Filipino interests towards the utilization of minerals and benefits gained through mining for national sustainable development.” (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)