MANILA, Philippines – The controversial closure and suspension orders of the environment department will be the "starting point" of the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) review of all existing mining operations in the country.
This was disclosed by Finance Undersecretary Bayani Agabin after an MICC meeting on Tuesday, March 28, attended by Agabin, Environment Secretary Gina Lopez, and other members of the multi-stakeholder council.
"It was agreed that [the DENR decision] will be used as a starting point," Agabin told reporters during a press conference after the meeting.
Environment Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Maria Paz Luna clarified that the MICC review "is actually a review of the operations of the mines under [Executive Order] 79. It was never a review of DENR's decisions."
"Because DENR decisions are reviewable by the Office of the President, and they also have the remedy of motions for reconsideration with DENR," she added.
The MICC review will start with the 28 mines that were ordered closed or suspended by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in February, but it will also cover the rest of the existing mining operations in the country.
Luna said the MICC's "fact-finding, research type of activity" will help establish further facts, and look into things that the DENR was "unable to look at" as well as those that other agencies can help the DENR with.
Lopez earlier called the MICC review a "usurpation" of the DENR's mandate, and even questioned the P50-million review in a memorandum to the President.
But can the MICC recommend the reopening of affected mining operations?
"It's not going to make conclusions of law, because that's within the authority of the DENR under a motion for reconsideration of the Office of the President…. It might, if it's based on a question of fact. Kunyari, sinabi nila na, 'Ang study 'nyo nagsabi na ito 'yung level of pollutant, pero ito pala' (For example, if they say, 'Your study showed it's this level of pollutant, but it's another level after all') then it will be for the decision of the Secretary," Luna answered.
Agabin on Tuesday said the MICC agreed that members of the review team "should not be employed in any capacity, directly or indirectly, with any operating mine."
Members should also have no financial interests in any of the operating mines, and they should not be "directly interested or a member of any anti-mining group or organization."
The MICC review will be holistic in approach, and will cover the following areas: technical, legal, social, environmental, and economic.
Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.