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Business

Bad eggs

HIDDEN AGENDA - Mary Ann LL. Reyes - The Philippine Star

At a recent international mining conference, Philex Mining chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan emphasized that an industry should not be judged based on its worst members.

He said that if countries like South Africa, Australia, Indonesia and China can operate and manage their mining businesses well and can conduct their mining operations responsibly and sustainably, then so can the Philippines.

Pangilinan noted that the local mining industry has to further level up when it comes to sustainability practices and standards, adding that the industry should be judged based on how the sector as a whole practices mining responsibly.

He emphasized that the mistakes of a few should not lead to the notion that the whole is wrong.

He cited the case of Philex which, on its own back in 2012, voluntarily stopped operations and addressed the tailings pond leak problem, and promptly paid the P1-billion fine imposed by government for the accident caused by unprecedented rain volume on its mining area.

Pangilinan also called on industry players to help improve the state of mining in the Philippines by addressing, among others, health-related and safety concerns, exploitation of women and child workers, as well as the lack of clarity of plans and actionable post-mining rehabilitation which can restore mine sites to their original natural state.

He likewise recommended that the mining benefits between host LGUs and the national government should be shared more equitably and the latter must ensure the timely remittance of taxes due to the LGUs.

To make the industry sustainable, Pangilinan further suggested the separation of the mining regulatory and promotion functions of the DENR to address the problem of conflicting goals of the department. He said that the Environmental Management Bureau, which enforces environmental laws on mining, should be spun off into a separate and independent body just like the US Environmental Protection Agency. The Mines and Geosciences Bureau, which is charged with the promotion, development, and supervision of mining, can remain with the DENR.

For his part, Chamber of Mines of the Philippines president Mike Toledo explained that mining has become more than just an enterprise that deals with rocks and dirt, noting that global trends and the positive changes being effect by policy makers and industry players aimed at ensuring sustainability are gradually transforming mining as an area of growth, responsibility, and a future that gleams with possibility.

Indeed, there are bad eggs in every industry, but it is not fair to call the entire basket as being rotten.

Take the case of the quarrying industry, which involves the extraction of sand, gravel, and other quarry resources found on or underneath the surface of private or public land which also governed by the Philippine Mining Act and under the regulation and supervision of the DENR.

A few years’ back, the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) reported that its infrastructure projects are being threatened by sand and gravel quarry sites which operate too close to irrigation facilities and structures. The foundations of dams are being threatened due to severe erosion caused by quarrying operations.

Meanwhile, a recent study on illegal extraction and trade of black sand in Ilocos Sur revealed that this has caused adverse effects like transformation of riverbeds into large and deep pits, displacement of residents due to threats of soil erosion and flooding, gradual loss of limited fertile lands for agricultural activities, and loss of fisheries productivity and coastal ecosystem.

A study by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) showed that the most important products of quarrying in the country are rock aggregates, namely sand and gravel, with their share of total mineral output increasing through the years.

It said that unlike in mining where operations are generally large scale and degradation impacts are obvious, operations in quarrying are relatively small-scale and the effects are less evident. But while quarrying is considered by many as a secondary component of the entire mining industry, illegal quarrying activities are also giving the Philippine mining industry a bad image.

There are two types of quarrying operations – mountain quarrying and river quarrying. However, PIDS noted that both have potentially significant negative environmental impacts.

In Palawan, it is estimated that illegal operators comprise one-third in terms of number and two-thirds in terms of production of total quarrying in the province.

Just recently, STAR columnist Alex Magno reported that members of Task Force Sagip Kalikasan have filed a complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman against San Fernando, Camarines Sur Mayor Fermin Mabulo together with five barangay chairman for alleged illegal mountain quarrying activities due to the absence of authority from the DENR or from the provincial government.

It is estimated that Mayor Mabulo and his group have evaded paying local taxes amounting to P54 million.

Despite an order issued by the DENR regional director back in 2021 to cease quarrying operations in the San Fernando barangays, it was claimed that the mayor disregarded the order. In addition, the complainants are saying that equipment belonging to the local government have been used for the illegal quarrying activities.

The same report revealed that the complainants have asked the Ombudsman to immediately suspend Mabulo et al to halt destructive quarrying activities in the area and clear the way for an exhaustive investigation into allegations of graft.

The complainants have accused Mabulo and company of violating the provision on theft of minerals under RA 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act, as well as violation of anti-graft and penal laws for the use of government vehicles for the illegal quarrying activities.

These illegal activities reportedly have been raised and discussed in the sessions of the San Fernando Sangguniang Bayan since 2021 but nothing has happened. It is claimed that 12 of the 14 quarrying sites in the town were illegally operated.

Back in 2017, the Office of the Ombudsman announced that it ordered the dismissal from service of two high-ranking officials from the Bulacan environment and natural resources offices in connection with illegal mining activities in the province.

In 2011, the Ombudsman filed graft charges before the Sandiganbayan against then Mexico, Pampanga Mayor Teddy Tumang also due to illegal quarry activities.

In Cebu City, Mayor Michael Rama called for a stop to illegal quarrying as residents in mountain barangays have reported more and more quarrying activities going on, the effects of which are especially felt during heavy rains.

What is needed is vigilance on the part of the citizens in reporting illegal mining and quarrying activities, local government officials who will not use their authority to exploit the environment, and a national government that will protect the environment against illegal miners of natural resources.

 

 

For comments, e-mail at [email protected]

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MANUEL V. PANGILINAN

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