BELEAGUERED miners reeling from last week’s move by the Environment department to shut them down may have gotten a reprieve when the Cabinet on Tuesday decided to allow them to dispute audit findings and rectify project deficiencies.
Subsequent official steps will be threshed out in the meeting of the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) scheduled this afternoon, Cabinet officials said yesterday.
Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto C. Abella said the Cabinet, led by President Rodrigo R. Duterte who had voiced support for the decision last week of Environment Secretary Regina Paz L. Lopez to shutter 23 of the country’s 41 metal mines and to suspend five others, discussed the issue “in the context of social justice.”
“The President and his Cabinet collectively decided to observe due process with regard to the mining issue,” Mr. Abella said in a mobile phone message yesterday.
“This means companies affected by mining closures for violations of environmental laws will be given the opportunity to respond to or dispute the audit, or make the necessary remedies to ensure compliance with environmental standards.”
Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, Mr. Abella said, ended at 8 p.m., adding that “the Department of Finance (DoF) shall have further discussions with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in their capacities as concerned government agencies of the Mining Industry Coordinating Council.”
In a separate text message, Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III confirmed that the MICC is scheduled to meet today which Ms. Lopez said will convene at 3 p.m.
The Environment chief told reporters separately yesterday that “there was discussion” on the issue in Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, but said she was standing by her decision.
“The President,” she said, “was on the side of the common good.”
“They wanted to make sure that I was following procedure and I have and I met with (Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador) ‘Sal’ (S.) Panelo who’s the legal counsel... and I explained everything, every step of the way I followed the law,” the Environment chief recalled at the sidelines of a public hearing in the Senate.
“The President saw that I followed the law e. I followed the law. That’s the President’s order. I followed the law.”
Ms. Lopez said the MICC cannot change her decision on sanctions to be meted erring miners.
“The MICC is recommendatory. I still call the shots. I’m totally within my rights to make decisions on closure, on suspension, that is in full swing of the authority of the Secretary of DENR. So I’m not breaking the law there,” she said, recalling that Finance Secretary “Sonny Dominguez asked me to go and I said, ‘sure’ because I co-chair that with him.”
The MICC -- formed under Executive Order No. 79 signed by former president Benigno S.C. Aquino III on July 6, 2012 to oversee reforms to make miners more socially and environmentally responsible while giving the state a bigger share in industry revenues -- is co-chaired by Mr. Dominguez and Ms. Lopez who head the Cabinet clusters on Economic Development and on Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation, respectively.
“They’re (MICC) recommendatory, you know,” Ms. Lopez said.
“And as far as I’m concerned you really can’t have mining on watersheds. And I don’t see anyone who can convince me that you can mine in watersheds. ‘Yun (That’s it).”
EO 79 also indefinitely extended a moratorium on new mining permits that was put in place the preceding year until a new revenue-sharing arrangement is enacted into law.
The DENR on Thursday last week announced its decision to either shutter or suspend more than three-fifths of the country’s metal mines on environmental grounds -- including operating in a watershed and causing siltation in adjacent bodies of water -- even as the technical review committee which DENR formed in November last year to review their cases recommended as sanctions suspension of operation, suspension of environmental compliance certificate, non-issuance of ore transport permit, and/or payment of fines.
The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (CoMP) yesterday issued a statement thanking Mr. Duterte and his Cabinet “for deciding to observe due process with regard to the mining issue,” adding that its members will “work closely” with the MICC “regarding issues raised to ensure that a fair and just conclusion to the mines audit is reached.”
“We’re relieved that, finally, the DoF will get involved. We hope to get a review process going,” Ronald S. Recidoro, CoMP’s vice-president for Legal and Policy, said by phone.
The DENR said last week that mines to be shuttered and those to be suspended accounted for 40.971% of industry jobs in 2015, as well as 41.425% of taxes collected and 22.463% of investments that same year, while its Mines and Geosciences Bureau estimates that the entire mining industry contributed 0.5% to the country’s jobs and 0.6% to gross domestic product in last year’s first three quarters.