Photo from Mark Saludes.
We have no doubt that Secretary Roy Agalluna Cimatu will be confirmed by the Commission on Appointments (CA), as we did not doubt before that the CA will reject former Secretary Gina Lopez’s appointment. Yesterday's confirmation of Sec. Cimatu showed that mining lobbyists have no intention of blocking his appointment like what they did with Former DENR Secretary Gina Lopez.
The handpicking of Cimatu, a military man with distinct experience in managing the operations of the AFP, but without any background on environmental protection, was a big question for us. We asked then: Is the President’s decision to put Cimatu in the position a way to achieve his avowed intention to protect the environment from mining, therefore he needs someone more firm to implement his so called marching orders to stop the "unbridled and irresponsible destruction over watersheds, forests, and aquatic resources”?
We want to believe we need such firmness. But we know better.
The 23 mining operations ordered closed, and 5 suspended by former Sec. Lopez are on appeal in DENR or with the President's Office and currently being reviewed by the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) through the Development Academy of the Philippines (DAP). Absent most probably are the most pressing concerns of communities where mining operate like juggernauts; they change the biology of the mine sites and the surrounding areas and destroying relationships of community members.
Last 5 June 2017, in celebration of the 2017 World Environment Day, we held a nationwide action in Manila, Legazpi, Baguio, Panay, Infanta, Marinduque, Davao, and Zamboanga City to highlight environmental issues. We also asked and pursued a dialogue with the President to hand-over the letters coming from our mining-affected community partners. The request was passed on however to the DENR. On the day of the event, these letters were publicly received by USec. Demetrio Ignacio. That was exactly 5 months ago, but we have yet to hear from the office of the new DENR Secretary.
In one of our many letters to DENR, we appealed to Sec. Cimatu to see through the continued implementation of the suspension orders of then Sec. Heherson Alvarez over Hinatuan Mining Corporation (HMC) with a mine site in Manicani Island, Eastern Samar which was suspended in 2002, but the company is right now soliciting consent from the LGUs of Guiuan including the Municipal Government in light of its expiring permit on 28 October 2017.
We have yet to receive any answer from Sec. Cimatu on our requests and queries.
When the new DENR Secretary, the alter-ego of the President, is reluctant in seeing face-to-face a section of his stakeholder - the community members gravely affected by mining operation and news reports circulating that his MGB Director seem so eager to please the miners that he is working hard to lobby for the lifting of the ban on open-pit mining, it raises some serious doubts and concerns on the sincerity of the President’s stance to show "firmness" against destructive mining operations as well as the DENR Secretary’s resolve in upholding environmental laws.
At Best, Rhetorical. At Worst, Farcical.
This year, the MINING PHILIPPINES Conference - an annual event organized by the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) - is without a doubt the group's attempt to defend its image by choosing to highlight once again the existence of that mythical creature called "Responsible Mining" in the Philippines. According to the group, exemplary mining operations in the country practices"...go beyond mere compliance".
We remember, in 2010, this same rhetoric was the focus of a conference organized by big mining companies operating in the Philippines called COREMin2. The event held in Dapitan, Zamboanga culminated with the publication of the "Dapitan Declaration” – a manifesto of mining companies' promise of adherence to basic human rights principles, stewardship of the environment, sustainable mining practice, good governance, and national patrimony. COREMin2 is the Coalition for Responsible Mining in Mindanao whose members include TVI Resource Development Phils. Inc. Sagittarius Mines Inc.; Philex Gold Philippines Inc., and Apex Mining Co., Inc.
In short, since 2010, mining companies were already trying hard at grasping the ethos of "Responsible Mining". In fact, the manifesto indeed said it GOES BEYOND COMPLIANCE, but, as the old adage go "ACTION speaks louder than WORDS."
With this year’s theme “Enhancing the Strategic Position of Minerals and Metals in the Global Landscape”, we still ask, ‘How about the affected communities?’ We cannot forget their ACTIONS: TWO YEARS after the Dapitan Declaration, Nicua Mining Corporation operating in MacArthur, Leyte caused large fish kill in Lake Bato due to the release of mine wastes. A month after, Philex Pacdal Mines leaked 20 Million MT. of mine tailings affecting Balog and Agno river systems in Benguet and Pangasinan. This affected the San Roque Dam which supplies water to agricultural irrigation and power generation for Northern Luzon. November of the same year, Citinickel Mines and Development Corporation's Toronto nickel mine operating in Narra, Palawan caused silt spill affecting 6.8 hectares of agricultural lands.
Our key leaders sitting in high places mandated and tasked by law to safeguard our environment are confused as the new Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) Director Atty. Wilfredo G. Moncano in a news statement said that MGB’s position is for the lifting of the ban on open-pit mining. Dir. Moncano is now pushing for the reversal of the DENR Administrative Order (DAO) No. 2017-10 issued by former Secretary Gina Lopez that bans open pit mining as an extraction method for copper, gold, silver, and complex ores.
This statement is clearly in contradiction to the previous statement of Secretary Cimatu of DENR that the ban on open-pit mining stays, as well as the strong pronouncement of President Duterte himself against the current situation of the mining industry in the country during his last SONA.
The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) also echoes the MGB Director’s harping on responsible mining and consistently asserts that Open-pit mining is an internationally accepted method and the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 allows it. Yet, these groups have yet to define concretely what “responsible mining” is. Their previous poster boy for responsible mining; Philex Mines in Benguet, was exposed when its mine tailings pond leaked 20 million metric tons of toxic wastes into Benguet’s water channels. Now, they are proudly showing off Rio Tuba. Until when will this poster image hold?
“Please understand that in our own little world, everything is interconnected. The mountains, the trees, the waters, the land, the air we breathe, and even the minerals underneath the grounds. If one of these elements will disappear or will be changed, everything else changes. Thus, however way we look at it, mining will only bring destruction to us”, caps the short presentation of Mr. William Tudcor who spoke in behalf of the Kankana-ey tribe of Kibungan, Benguet during the Natural Resources Committee hearing at the House of Representatives in support of House Bill (HB) 4387 which seeks to declare Kibungan, Benguet as a mining-free zone.
“While this is not yet the end of our struggle, we celebrate this victory. This gives hope to the people of Kibungan who have struggled for more than 80 years opposing attempts of mining companies to operate in the area. We have witnessed parts of the struggles and we can’t help but give a sigh of relief that something is happening,” stated Ms. Rosella Bahni, Executive Director of Igorota Foundation (IFI) and cluster point person of the Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc. (PMPI) Northern Luzon Cluster. IFI has been directly working and supporting the communities in Kibungan.
Authored by Benguet Representative Ronald Cosalan, the said bill passed the third reading in the House of Representatives but failed to pass in the Senate before the 16th Congress adjourned.