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Review panel to focus on 23 mining firms

Louise Maureen Simeon, Mary Grace Padin - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The panel tasked to review the performance of local mining companies will initially focus on the 23 firms ordered closed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), a member of the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) said.

“If you look at the mandate of the MICC, it’s supposed to cover all 311 contracts thus far issued. But we are starting with just the 23,” Finance Undersecretary Bayani Agabin told reporters on Monday evening. He said the committee aims to finish the whole process within three months.

“There are some administrative issues that we have to resolve, like the budget, where will we get that budget. So we have to resolve that very soon,” he said without citing figures.

The official said the MICC is considering tapping experts from the academe to conduct a review of the mining operations of the 23 firms ordered shut down by the DENR.

“We’ve determined it will be merely a fact-finding body. It will be investigative and done in a scientific manner. And we’ve determined, probably, we need experts to look at the technical, economic and social aspects of the mining operations,” Agabin said.

“It should be unbiased, so definitely none from mining companies. We were thinking professors or (those) from the academe,” he added. The Department of Finance represented by Agabin co-chairs the MICC.

He said the proposed timeline, as well as the process and team composition of the review – as discussed during the meeting – would have to be cleared first by the council.

“We have to get clearance from the whole body itself. If they say yes, then we can proceed on that basis,” he said.

Agabin said the multi-stakeholder review on the performance of the mining companies is pursuant to Executive Order 79, which requires such exercise every two years.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and Environment Secretary Gina Lopez issued MICC Resolution 6 last Feb. 9 giving due course to a review of mining firms’ performance.

“Pursuant to EO (Executive Order) 79, the MICC shall create a multi-stakeholder review and advise the DENR on the performance of existing mining operations in consultation with local government units,” the resolution read.

“The review shall be based on the guidelines and parameters set forth in the specific mining contract and in other pertinent laws, taking into account the valid exercise of the State’s police power to serve the common good, especially the poor,” it added.

‘Hasty decision’

For the mining industry, the three-month review timeline could be an indication that the DENR closure order was hastily made.

“It goes to show that the decision of the Secretary may have been too hasty, given that it will take three months to review her decision,” Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) legal and policy vice president Ronald Recidoro told The STAR.

Nevertheless, COMP welcomed the decision as such would give mining companies an opportunity to address concerns raised against them.

“We are grateful that the MICC is finally moving on the review. We just hope that this will be a thorough and impartial one,” Recidoro said.

“I think the three months is OK because you are talking about reviewing more than a hundred tenements and also looking at coordinates of the MPSAs (mineral production sharing agreements) overlain in the proclaimed watersheds. We also do not know yet the composition of the team that will work on this,” COMP executive vice president Nelia Halcon said.

While the MICC review is already in motion, Environment Undersecretary Ipat Luna admitted that there is still a lot of processes to follow and clarifications to make.

“It is still unclear who will be the ones to lead. We just clarified first with our data gathering, we discussed the process that will be taken. We don’t even have a budget yet for the review,” Luna said in a separate interview.

“At this stage, we are just supplying the committee with the process. We will take off from the review results,” she added.

Luna noted that the MICC might convene again before the end of the month to finalize the whole review process.

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), for its part, said there are still other matters that need to be discussed by the council.

“We just discussed terms of reference of the technical review team. There are parameters that came out during the meeting that we have to hurdle before we finally decide,” NEDA-Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources director Mercedita Sombilla said.

While the COMP hopes to be included in the review, Luna said it is likely only the government would undertake it. NEDA expressed belief a third party should be included in the review.

“It should not be the government. Probably, experts and academe – not even MGB (Mines and Geosciences Bureau) because they have done their audit already,” Sombilla said. – With Ben Serrano

MICC

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