Mining firms say Gina Lopez creating bigger problem

A small-scale miner takes a break from extracting gold in the village of Gumatdang in Itogon, Benguet. More than 60 percent of Gumatdang’s residents are engaged in small-scale mining. ARTEMIO DUMLAO

Mining firms say Gina Lopez creating bigger problem
Louise Maureen Simeon (The Philippine Star) - February 7, 2017 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Mining stakeholders continue to hit on Environment Secretary Gina Lopez, saying the agency’s head is creating an even bigger problem for the industry resulting in the stalling of economic growth momentum under the Duterte administration.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources has ordered the closure of 23 mining firms and the suspension of five others for breaching environmental standards.

The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines said while Lopez reiterated her purpose to heal the sector, the closure order has grave repercussions on the industry and the country as well.

“This is not the way to ‘heal the hurt.’ This is not the way to harness the mineral industry’s potential as a contributor to the country’s progress,” COMP chairman Artemio Disini said.

“It is now apparent that within her department, there is widespread chaos. Her actions have finally revealed her true bias which is to stop all mining in the Philippines,” he added.

According to COMP, the closure order will affect more than 1.2 million Filipinos and cripple local government units and communities that benefit from tax payments of mining firms.

“She (Lopez) is creating an unstable policy environment resulting in threatening the economic growth momentum under the Duterte administration and putting in limbo $22 billion worth of investments,” he said.

“Lopez is slowly killing an industry that has paid billions in taxes and fees annually,” Disini added.

Disini said the environment chief is strangling current operations by non-issuance of various permits and halting projects by withholding and cancelling previously issued certificates.

“The Secretary-designate has effectively established a mining moratorium in the Philippines, trampling on the Philippine Mining Act, a law that she had sworn to uphold and implement before the President of the Philippines,” Disini said.

COMP said Lopez’s action is posing danger not just to the mining sector, but also to other industries as well including drilling, construction, hauling and shipping, processing companies, manpower and transportation service providers.

Stakeholders are now appealing to President Duterte to thoroughly review the actions of Lopez in relation to the minerals sector.

“What is ironic is the Secretary-designate has trained her guns on the legitimate operations, while turning a blind eye to unpermitted, undocumented, non-taxpaying and non-compliant mining operations who are the real violators of environment,” Disini said.

Lopez, however, said Monday she would not reconsider her decision to shut down 23 of the country’s 41 mines, adding the Southeast Asian nation is “unfit for mining.”

“If it is closure, I can then heal the land. It is closure because there is no way you can have any kind of mining in watershed areas,” Lopez told Reuters in an interview at her office.

The affected mines account for half of the nickel ore output by the world’s top supplier of the metal.

Some industry stakeholders have likewise noted the conflict of interest of Lopez in handling the DENR post, citing the massive oil leak at the West Tower condominium in Makati City that was caused by the Lopez-led First Philippine Industrial Corp.

University of the Philippines-National Institute of Geological Sciences director Carlos Arcilla said Lopez has not done anything to comply with a Supreme Court order directing her agency to oversee the full cleanup by the FPIC of the remaining pollutants in the groundwater and soil that spilled over.

“Secretary Lopez, already six months into her tenure as head of DENR, has not done anything to mitigate, publicize and lessen the suffering caused to the displaced people of West Tower and Bangkal,” he said.

 

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