Cimatu told to review expansion of mine sites despite moratorium

Newly appointed Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu should include in his priority list a thorough review of the amendments made to mineral production sharing agreements (MPSAs) that allowed several miners to expand their mining tenements despite the mining moratorium during the previous administration.

This was stressed by Carlo A. Arcilla, a professor at the National Institute of Geological Sciences of the University of the Philippines in Diliman, saying whoever engineered the mechanism for area expansion under Executive Order (EO) 79 and its implementing rules and regulation should be held accountable.

Arcilla was reacting to a BusinessMirror exclusive on the Aquino administration’s alleged violation of its own moratorium on new mining deals that allowed the areas covered by MPSAs to increase by about 6 percent at the tail end of its term.

Most of the MPSAs that got area expansion were among those subsequently canceled by former Environment Secretary Regina Paz L. Lopez in February for being within or near watersheds. They were approved in the first six months of 2016, or before the election and subsequent takeover of the Duterte administration.

A study conducted by the BusinessMirror revealed that 16 companies engaged in ore extraction, cement production and quarrying were able to expand their mining areas through amendments of their existing MPSAs.

With this, mining areas grew by a total of 35,067.35 hectares.

There are currently 317 existing MPSAs covering a total of 603,158.21 hectares as of April 30,  according to the Mines and Geo-sciences Bureau’s (MGB) web site.  Some of the MPSAs have expired, consolidated, or canceled, but with some still under appeal.

The expansion of mining areas was done through “annexation” of areas covered by existing MPSAs, ironically despite the ban on new mining projects and the processing of mining application following the signing of Executive Order (EO) 79 by former President Benigno S. Aquino III in July 2012.  Aquino’s mining policy sets the framework that will guide the government and other stakeholders in the implementation and operationalization of mining laws, rules and regulations.

The annexed areas are covered by separate mining-permit applications, including exploration. Interviewed on the sidelines of a mine tour at the Masbate Gold Project mine in Aroroy, Arcilla, also president of Solid Earth Sciences of Asia Oceania Geosciences Society, said the expansion of mining tenements not within the regular procedure of mining tenement acquisition is “highly suspicious”.

“I know that during the time of P-Noy [Aquino], P-Noy was against mining, as shown by the moratorium, not on mining, but on new tenements,” Arcilla said. “If indeed there have been expansion not within the regular procedure of tenement, for the sake of transparency, it must be looked into,” he said.

The process of tenement acquisition is carefully laid under the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, he said. Under the law, he added mining companies have to do “a lot of things” as part of the permitting process before securing a mining tenement. This is to ensure that safeguards are put in place and that there will be minimal environmental impact in the area to be developed or exploited.

According to Arcilla, expanding an area covered by the MPSA by merely amending it to annex another area is highly irregular.

Arcilla said that EO 79 is an EO that threads on established law—referring to the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.

“An EO is like a presidential decree, it is like Marcosian dictatorship.  It’s basically an EO that steps on the Philippine Mining Act that was debated upon for many years by no less than the Supreme Court,” he lamented.

Arcilla said the mining industry, particularly the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP), is to be blamed for not questioning the legality of Aquino’s mining policy.

“The Chamber of Mines should challenge EO 79. They are soft on it. It’s like Johnny come lately.  If it is true, that an expansion or annexation was done not under established law, but on basis of an IRR of an EO, it is travesty of justice,” he said.

President Duterte on Monday appointed Cimatu as environment secretary. Cimatu is also the special envoy to the Middle East.

“We welcome with cautious optimism the appointment of former AFP Chief of Staff Roy Cimatu as secretary of environment. We hope that his appointment finally answers our long-held call for a DENR secretary who has a balanced appreciation for environmental protection and natural resources management. His sterling record in government service speaks well of Gen. Cimatu, and we look forward to meeting him in the near future,” Ronald Recidoro, vice president for Legal and Policy of the COMP, said in an official statement.

Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment said as former AFP chief, Cimatu’s appointment does not bode well with environmentalist. Antimining group Alyansa Tigil Mina said the former AFP chief of staff  “has a lot to prove that he can champion the poor and marginalized sectors against destructive mining companies. We hope that he was not appointed to be a simple ‘yes man’ of mining companies and the corrupt government officials.”

With Elijah Felice E. Rosales