DENR closes 23 mining firms, plans rehabilitation of affected areas

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) announced on Thursday the closure of 23 mining firms all over the country.

Environment Secretary Gina Lopez said the 23 companies, which are operating on or near watersheds, caused siltation of coastal waters and destruction of watersheds, among other violations. Siltation happens when excessive mineral particles contaminate a body of water.

Lopez said these firms should stop operating until President Rodrigo Duterte says otherwise.

"You cannot, you must not, and you should not have any mining which endangers the water supply of the Filipino. No amount of money warrants the quality of life of the Filipino," Lopez said in a media briefing.

She said this move is meant to "rectify" the mistakes of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB). The MGB, which is under DENR, grants exploration permits to companies, while the secretary of the DENR approves minerals processing permits, according to Republic Act No. 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.

Lopez showed pictures of dirty rivers and denuded forests, some of which she took herself while the department was conducting the mining audit.

Four mining firms in Zambales - BenguetCorp Nickel Mines Inc., Eramen Minerals Inc., LNL Archipelago Minerals, and Zambales Diversified Metals Corporation - were ordered closed because of illegal logging activities, and for operating near a river.

Lopez said their operations led to siltation, which she said affected the agricultural yield of Sta. Cruz town.

"What happens when the river gets silted? The farmers suffer. Their yield suffer. Food suffers. Our economy suffers. It's not good at all," Lopez said.

Seven people also died in Zambales when Typhoon Lando (international name Koppu) struck in 2015. Residents said the polluted water reached residential areas then.

"What happened in Zambales is social injustice," Lopez said.

The environment secretary also pointed out that mining does not alleviate poverty despite the lucrative income of mining companies, citing the situation in Dinagat Islands.

"Sinong may pakinabang sa resources ng Pilipinas? The money doesn't even go back to us," Lopez said. "Siguro naman if the mining was good, hindi na sila mahirap," she added.

[Translation: Who benefits from the resources of the Philippines? The money doesn't even go back to us, Lopez said. If the mining was good, people in Dinagat should be well-off by now.]

Dinagat Islands in the northern part of Surigao in Mindanao were declared a "mineral land reservation" in 1939 though Proclamation No. 391 issued by President Manuel L. Quezon.

In 1993, President Fidel V. Ramos signed Proclamation No. 295 that excluded certain parcels of land covered by Proclamation No. 391 to be used for agricultural purposes.

Ramos' proclamation stated, "the exclusion … shall not in any way prejudice their possible future use for mineral resources development, if when, further exploration finds it meritorious subject to existing mining laws, rules and regulations."

Lopez, however, closed 14 mining companies in Dinagat Islands and Surigao:

Dinagat Island

Aam-Phil Natural Resources Exploration

Krominco, Inc.

SinoSteel Philippines H.Y. Mining Corp.

Oriental Synergy Mining Corp.

Wellex Mining Corp.

Libjo Mining Corp.

Oriental Vision Mining Philippines Corp.

Surigao del Norte

ADNAMA Mining Resources Corp.

Claver Mineral Development Corp.

Platinum Development Corp.

CTP Construction and Mining Corp.

Carrascal Nickel Corp.

Marcventures Mining and Development Corp.

Hinatuan Miing Corp.

"I want Dinagat to rest for a while. We've been mining there for 77 years. Tama na (It's enough)," Lopez said.

Lopez said she plans to utilize a 1,000-hectare bonsai forest in the island for ecotourism.

"There's money for rehabilitation, but I cannot touch that money unless I close (mining firms). So if I close I can use that money and create another economy, a green economy which respects the environment and benefit everyone," she said.

Architect and Environmental Planner Mark de Castro said to rehabilitate the closed-down areas, the department will work with different stakeholders, including the community, economists, environmental scientists, agriculturists and even the New People's Army and the Moro National Liberation Front.

In the end, Lopez said the beneficiaries should be the people.

"Any kind of economic development, the prime consideration are the people there," she said, adding the well-being of the people should be the indicators of success and not the gross domestic product or even the stock market.

The following were also ordered for closure: Benguet Corp. in Benguet; Ore Asia Mining and Development Corp. in Bulacan; and Mt. Sinai Mining Exploration and Development Corp., Emir Minerals Corp. and TechIron Mineral Resources, Inc. in Homonhom Island, Eastern Samar.

The DENR also suspended five mining firms for violating environmental laws: Berong Nickel Corp., CitiNickel Mines and Development Corp., Lepanto Consolidated Mining Corp., OceanaGold Phils., and Strong Built Mining Development Corp.

In a letter to the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE), Oriental Peninsula Resources Group Inc. Corporate Secretary Jose Marie Fabella said the company, or its mining unit CitiNickel, has yet to receive the suspension order.

Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company also said in its PSE disclosure form that it has not yet received the suspension order.

"Accordingly, our mining operations continue. We maintain that Lepanto has not violated any environmental laws," it said.

Australia-based OceanaGold Corporation President and CEO Mick Wilkes echoed the same sentiments.

"The decision announced by the DENR Secretary is unjustified nor has any basis in law. We have not received any show cause notice from the DENR nor have we received a suspension order. Should we ultimately receive a suspension order as suggested today we have very strong legal grounds to have it overturned," he said in a media release.