August 17, 2021

Environmental activist group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) slammed the recent interagency Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) pronouncement exonerating previously closed or suspended mines, calling the review a “sham and a farce attempting to make an impossible makeover of a very dirty and destructive mining industry.”

“We call for an independent mining industry review untainted by big business wheeling and dealing. A sudden 100% passing rate for the reviewed mines is highly anomalous when we know for a fact that at least one big mining project comprehensively violated water regulations that should have warranted its closure,” said Leon Dulce, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.

The group cited the case of OceanaGold Philippines Inc. (OGPI), which has been met with years of protests from local stakeholders in Didipio, Nueva Vizcaya. In 2020, a study from the University of the Philippines Diliman found that OGPI’s mining operations “present a certain level of threat to the communities relying on groundwater as a source of potable water”.

“Let’s not forget that OceanaGold has operated illegally for two years even after its Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement expired in 2019. Illegal operations are basis enough for mine closure,” Dulce furthered.

The MICC conducted a virtual Mining Review Dissemination Forum last week, presenting broad strokes and the cumulative results of the two-phase review of the 43 companies from February 2018 to December 2020.

As late as May 2021, partial data obtained from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) showed that 26 companies, including OGPI, or more than half of the mines in scrutiny failed to score ’acceptable’ in the review. Substantially, no companies scored ‘acceptable’, while the majority of the companies needed major to minor reforms.

“The virtual forum was ceremonial at its best, with companies getting low scores just told to do better, without any consequences. It’s as if we’re being told to just forgive and forget environmental atrocities in the name of profit and goodwill,” added Dulce.

The MICC is co-chaired by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, who replaced the late former Environment Secretary Gina Lopez in 2017. Secretary Lopez’s appointment was rejected in the middle of her efforts to crackdown on destructive mining.

On the other hand, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque mentioned in June that the Duterte administration is projecting about $4 billion in revenue from major mining projects once they start to resume operations. Sec. Dominguez also said that “the Duterte administration… is pushing the revival of the industry”.

“It is quite suspicious that this drive for mining money comes too close to the upcoming election season, when mining magnates are known to financially contribute to electoral campaigns. We must be wary how the mining industry can interfere in public interest and service,” Dulce concluded.#