MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang has put on hold the closure and suspension orders on 28 mines issued by Environment Secretary Gina Lopez purportedly to give way to due process.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said on Wednesday that President Duterte and his Cabinet have collectively decided to observe due process in dealing with the mining issue.
Abella said mining firms would be given the opportunity to respond to or dispute the results of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)’s mining audit, which has not yet been released by the agency.
The DENR based its decision to close 23 mines and suspend five others on the audit report.
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“The Department of Finance (DOF) shall have further discussions with the DENR in their capacities as concerned government agencies of the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC),” the President’s spokesman said.
Lopez and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III co-chair the MICC.
“Members of the Cabinet have expressed their full support behind President Duterte’s decision to observe due process before implementing a directive of the DENR to shut down or suspend 28 mining sites across the country,” the DOF said in a statement.
Lopez’s closure order has sparked uproar in communities hosting mining sites, as some 1.2 million people are estimated to be directly and indirectly affected by the closure and suspension orders.
Affected mining firms have also asked the DENR to give them more time to take the necessary remedial actions.
Industry group Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) welcomed the Palace’s latest aannouncement.
“The Chamber of Mines thanks President Duterte and the Cabinet for deciding to observe due process with regard to the mining issue,” the group said in a statement.
“We welcome the decision as this gives hope to our mining communities comprised of women and men who rely on the industry for their living,” it added.
The group promised to cooperate with the government and the MICC in reaching a “fair and just” arrangement.
It also reminded the DENR that it has not yet released the audit report used by the department to justify its orders.
“Firms have not received any. That’s why we’re still at a loss,” COMP executive vice president Nelia Halcon said over the phone.
“We are not just requesting for the mere summation of the audit results. We need the actual test results which were used as bases for determining whether or not these mining firms have violated environmental regulations,” COMP chairman Artemio Disini said.
“The DENR needs to show us that these tests were conducted in each mining company and the specific findings that merited their suspension or closure,” he added.
Several Cabinet members earlier expressed concern over the impact of the DENR decision on employment and on finances of local government units.
In response, Lopez said the government would allot P8 billion for the development of sites in ecological zones where displaced workers would be hired.
For two members of the House of Representatives, an investigation should be launched to find out how Lopez came up with her decision.
Reps. Allen Jesse Mangaoang of Kalinga and Anthony Bravo of party-list Coop-Natcco filed House Resolution 756 calling for a House inquiry into the DENR chief’s basis for issuing the suspension and closure orders.
Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers – in whose area several mining firms were operating – earlier warned Lopez to watch her back and be wary of her alleged double agent confidant, former Mines and Geosciences Bureau chief Leo Jasareno.
Closing mining companies responsible for destroying Mother Earth is definitely commendable, but the DENR chief should also check her own trusted aide who for decades allowed unimpeded and unabated mining activities, he said.
Barbers issued the warning following Lopez’s decision to tap the expertise of former DENR undersecretary Jasareno, whom President Duterte had already “dismissed.”
“Jasareno is not an innocent bystander in this masquerade. He is the protagonist. His MGB was supposed to police the mining activities in the country, but now he is saying that these companies committed environmental violations,” Barbers pointed out the irony.
Lopez, a pro-environment advocate, hired the former MGB chief and even designated him to lead the audit team that supposedly recommended the closure of the 23 mines.
Barbers, chairman of the House dangerous drugs committee, noted it is very “disturbing” to learn that Jasareno was hired by no less than Lopez herself and “equally disturbing” was her appointment of him as head of the audit team to probe the mining firms.
“Such hypocrisy coming from the one who was supposed to make sure that mining laws are followed and implemented,” Barbers noted, as he urged Lopez to be “fair and investigate her confidante with the same zeal and vigor” as she had displayed in her dealing with mining firms.
“Jasareno knew all too well that the violations were happening under his watch – for several years – but he deliberately turned a blind eye on these violations,” the Mindanao lawmaker stressed.
“Gross negligence at the very least, gross incompetence at worse and connivance at worst, which one is it, Mr. Jasareno? And how about those mining companies which were not closed and whose owners are known friends of Mr. Jasareno?” Barbers asked.
He lamented that Lopez has “put the blame entirely on the erring mining companies without looking at the root cause of the problem, which did not just happen overnight.”
He urged Lopez to “open her eyes if she really wants to reform the graft-laden agency.”
“I urge Secretary Lopez to turn her attention to the contributing factor for these environmental violations. I am referring to the corrupt MGB under Jasareno, the Malacañang-dismissed DENR undersecretary,” Barbers said in a statement.
“It is very sad and unfortunate for the country that despite being dismissed by no less than the President, Secretary Lopez still retained Jasareno as her confidante and consultant,” he added.
Meanwhile, environmentalist group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) has assailed Malacañang for withdrawing Lopez’s order. – With Artemio Dumlao, Louise Maureen Simeon