MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Businessman Manuel Zamora denied Environment Secretary Gina Lopez’s allegations that he had “killed a mountain,” saying that she instead is “making a mountain out of a molehill.”
On the first day of her confirmation hearing before the Commission on Appointments (CA) on Wednesday, March 8, Lopez had addressed the businessman’s brother, San Juan City Representative Ronaldo Zamora, who is also the CA vice chair.
“That’s your brother’s mine…. Because Sir, you know they’ve been mining this for 20 years, and the mountain was really big and the mountain got small, and that’s not legal at all, you’ve totally killed the mountain. Tell your brother he totally killed the mountain,” she told the vice chair of the CA.
Manuel Zamora, founder and chairman of Nickel Asia Corporation (NAC), issued a statement late Wednesday to reject Lopez’s claims.
“Friends have been asking if I am the brother she is alluding to and have sought my reaction. Let me reassure my friends – and everyone willing to listen – that I do not feel alluded to at all. Mountains I have climbed and time I have killed – but not even in my wildest imagination have I ever ‘killed a mountain,'” he said.
“If not for the seriousness of the remark – murder is murder, even when the ‘victim’ is, well, a mountain – I would have simply dismissed this as the work of an overly-active mind that is making a mountain out of a molehill. Not guilty,” he added.
The businessman has been in the mining sector since the 1970s.
Representative Zamora, meanwhile, served in the NAC board until his retirement from the company in 2013. The congressman told reporters on Wednesday that he has “no economic and financial interests” in any of his brother’s companies.
Mountain ‘still there’
NAC president and chief executive officer Gerard Brimo also wrote a letter to Rappler, responding to Lopez’s allegations.
Brimo explained: “When we first went to Hinatuan in the 1980s, the island was uninhabited. There was no agriculture and no vegetation other than stunted trees and shrubs. This is because the soil in almost the entire island has high iron content, which gives the soil its reddish tint and which makes it unsuitable for agriculture. This is also why the island is within an area declared as a mineral reservation many years ago.
“The only way to make the island productive is precisely to extract the nickel deposit. By the time our mining operations are finished, we would have mined about 1.5% of the entire landmass of the island. That in no way can cause a ‘big mountain’ to become small, especially considering that this type of nickel deposit is very shallow… We assure the good Secretary that the mountain in Hinatuan is still there,” he continued.
Brimo also said “mined out areas will be rehabilitated and made productive, unlike how we found it, and like what we have done in Rio Tuba.”
Brimo said Lopez saw firsthand what NAC accomplished in its Rio Tuba mine in Palawan, when they visited the area together months ago. “She was indeed impressed with how our mined out areas have been converted to forested areas with far better vegetation than what was originally found,” he added.
Miners vs Lopez
Listed firm NAC has grown to be among the biggest global nickel miners and currently exports saprolite and limonite ore to China and Japan. The company is worth almost P50 billion as of Thursday.
NAC is also the only mining firm in the country and among the few in the world with hydrometallurgical nickel processing facilities which process nickel ore into higher-value products. It has processing plants in Palawan and Surigao.
Lopez has been locked in a battle with mining companies since she ordered the closure of 23 mines and the suspension of 5 others in early February.
A mine of NAC’s subsidiary, Hinatuan Mining Corporation, was among those ordered shut down in Surigao del Norte. (READ: DOF: Mining closures to cost LGUs over P821M in revenue losses)
Lopez then cancelled 75 mineral production sharing agreements (MPSAs) in watersheds all over the country.
The Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC), co-chaired by Lopez and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, is conducting a technical review of the closure and suspension orders for the mining sites.
But Lopez, on the second day of her confirmation hearing on Thursday, questioned the MICC review. She said it was in effect “usurpation” of the mandate of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. (READ: Chamber of Mines: Lopez ‘unfit, unqualified’ to be DENR secretary) – Rappler.com
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