Over 4.2 million trees have been planted by nickel miners in the CARAGA Region and Palawan, considered as the country’s last ecological frontier, in support of the National Greening Program (NGP).
Moreover, the Philippine Nickel Industry Association (PNIA), through its 7 member-companies, has intensified its greening efforts in recent years as part of the on-going progressive rehabilitation and reforestation in their respective mining areas, according to Executive Director Chairmaine Olea -Capili.
“To date, the aggregate reforestation effort of member-companies comes to a total of about 2,000 hectares, the PNIA official said in a news statement distributed to members of the media during a forum in Quezon City on Tuesday.
The PNIA said forest density is about 2,100 trees per hectare, much higher than the country’s NGP standard. The NGP standard is 500 trees per hectare.
According to Olea-Capili, native and endemic tree and grass species have been successfully planted since the start of rehabilitation efforts. These include agoho, mahogany, giant bamboo, tiger kamagong, tiga, ipil, narra, and ironwood, as well as fruit-bearing trees like calamansi, rambutan, cashew, jackfruit, and cacao.
Cash-crops like rubber, coffee, vegetables and herbal plants are also grown in mine sites’ respective nurseries, she said.
The NGP, an ambitious reforestation program, was implemented between 2010 and 2016.
In 2015, by virtue of Executive Order No. 193, this was continued under the Expanded National Greening Program, which aims to reforest 1.2 million hectares of open, degraded and denuded forest across the country from 2017 to 2022.
President Duterte recently reiterated his plan to ban surface mining or open-pit mining as a method of extracting minerals in the Philippines, while Cimatu, his alter-ego in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), said they plan to reinvent mining by finding other ways to extract mineral without destroying the environment, including the strict implementation of so-called progressive mining rehabilitation, that is sure to affect quarrying and nickel-mining operations.
More than half of the 43 large-scale mining operations go for nickel ores.
Upon extraction, nickel ores are sun-dried in shaved and flattened portions of forests, which requires huge space before shipment, 90 percent of which goes to China and the remaining 10 percent to Japan.
During the forum, Dante Bravo, president of PNIA said nickel-mining companies remain committed to responsible mining that even goes beyond compliance.
Bravo said nickel-mining companies which use surface or open-pit mining method is willing to hold a dialogue with President Duterte and Secretary Roy A. Cimatu of DENR on the issue of open-pit mining.
He said the Philippines, the biggest exporter of nickel ore in the world, uses surface mining or open-pit mining method because it is the only way to extract nickel, especially in the Philippines, where more than 50 percent of its export comprised of low-grade nickel.
But Bravo said open-pit mines can be rehabilitated, and as demonstrated by several mining companies under the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, has put in place adequate environmental safeguards and strict requirement for the conduct of progressive mine rehabilitation.
In February last year, former DENR Secretary Regina Paz L. Lopez recommended the closure or suspension of more than two dozen large-scale mining operations, most of which are nickel mines, for failing a mining audit that includes environmental, social, and biodiversity among the criteria on top of the legal and technical aspects of mining operations.
The Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) is reportedly poised to reverse most of Lopez’s orders, after a review which states that 23 of the 27 mining operations have in fact passed environmental standard, with only four mining operations actually failing based on a third-party expert assessment.
Nickel-mining is very destructive as it requires the shaving of forests and leveling to the ground mountains extracting mineral, leaving a giant bowl-like hole that over the years become a catch basin where rainwater accumulates to form an artificial lake with potentially hazardous water.
Abandoned open-pit mines pose very serious threats to people and environment in case of a landslide that may trigger flashflood or mudslide, such as what happened to the Marcopper mine, which caused extensive “ridge-to-reef” damage.