Appeals court rules in favor of Masbate gold mine
MANILA, Philippines – The Court of Appeals (CA) dismissed an environmental group's petition seeking a writ of kalikasan and an environmental protection order against Filminera Resources Corporation's gold mine in Aroroy, Masbate.
The March 8 decision penned by former CA associate justice and now Supreme Court Associate Justice Noel Tijam said petitioners Ang Aroroy Ay Alagaan, Incorporated, together with 4 private citizens, failed to prove their allegations that the Masbate mine adversely affected the environment surrounding the municipalities of Aroroy and Baleno.
A writ of kalikasan is a legal remedy designed to protect a Filipino citizen's right to environmental protection. It may be used by any individual or group as protection from environmental damage that threatens the life, health, and property of inhabitants in two or more cities or provinces.
When Environment Secretary Gina Lopez in February announced the closure or suspension of 28 mining sites in the country, she deferred deciding on Filminera Resources Corporation.
In its ruling in favor of Filminera, the CA said the petition against the company contained an "uncorroborated claim."
"Petitioners' allegations in the petition, therefore, absent any concrete proof, are bereft of any merit. Petitioners simply failed to substantiate their claims that any environmental damage is directly attributable to Filminera's mining activities. Their uncorroborated claim of that fact, even under oath, is self-serving," the CA said.
The petitioners claimed that:
- Filminera was operating without the necessary permits, including a valid environmental clearance certificate (ECC)
- The mining operation had caused water pollution in Aroroy and Baleno, which in turn affected the health and livelihood of residents
But according to the CA's 4th Division, the mining company "was able to controvert with overwhelming evidence, the allegations put forth by the petitioners."
Evidence presented include data from the environment department's Environmental Management Bureau, regular multi-partite water testing done with local stakeholders, and copies of permits needed to operate the mine, including a valid ECC.
"Respondents were also able to show the permits necessary for its operations, all of which were not sufficiently rebutted by the petitioners," the CA said.
The appellate court also noted that studies on water quality from the petitioners' side did not prove the presence of cyanide or mercury that's hazardous to both residents and the environment.
Filminera also denied using mercury in any of its processes, pointing out that the contamination is likely due to the unregulated operations of around 3,000 small-scale miners in the area.
Moreover, the CA said water sampling tests that showed the presence of mercury could not be attributed to Filminera, as they were conducted before the company even began its operations.
In fact, the CA noted that the petitioners' own expert witnesses in their testimony admitted that these water sampling tests showed results that did not exceed government standards.
The petitioners, according to the CA, also failed to present evidence on claims that the mining company had gone beyond its allowed operating area, or that it encroached on waterways.
"In sum, the petitioners failed to substantiate its claims that Filminera's operations cased environmental damage of the magnitude contemplated under the writ of kalikasan. The evidence it presented is inadequate to establish the factual bases of its claims," the CA said.
CA Associate Justices Francisco Acosta and Eduardo Peralta Jr concurred with the decision. – Rappler.com