PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Philippines – Contrary to the claim of a non-governmental organization, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Mines and Geosciences Bureau in Region IV-B (DENR-MGB 4B) said that the alleged illegal mining operation in Sofronio Española town is part of a mining firm’s rehabilitation of a mined-out area.
“The area is really a mined-out area and what they're doing is recontouring,” Roland De Jesus, Regional Director of DENR-MGB 4B, told Rappler on Friday, December 2.
He is referring to the Citinickel Mines and Development Corporation (CMDC), the subject of complaint of the Palawan NGO Network Inc. (PNNI) which recently accused the mining company of operating despite its indefinite suspension.
In a letter-complaint dated November 28, PNNI Executive Director Robert Chan claimed that the backhoe of CMDC was caught in photos and on video digging and extracting nickel ore directly from the mountainside “in an apparent bid to pass it off as part of their preset stockpile."
De Jesus said he personally went to the area to verify the allegation. He explained that before the rehabilitation of a mined-out mountain begins, it needs to be recontoured, especially when the slope to be planted with tree seedlings is too steep. Otherwise, it will get eroded come rainy season.
“You cannot do it manually, you have to also use heavy equipment like backhoe. Of course, if you are going to recontour, you are going to remove some soil materials,” he added.
De Jesus said these soil materials hauled into the dump truck of CMDC are “low-graded” ones and are “no longer an ore.” At the site during the investigation, he said they did a re-enactment and had it captured in geo-tagged photos.
Meanwhile, CMDC Community Relations Manager Pamela Miguel lashed back at PNNI, saying its allegation is “a blatant lie, a baseless and malicious accusation” and that “the company is not taking it lightly anymore.”
“We categorically deny that there is any mine operation or mine production activity going on. We are suspended, why will we do that? We will not defy the law,” Miguel told Rappler.
The CMDC official said they have plenty of preset stockpile, with roughly 2.5 million wet metric tons in their sites in the towns of Narra and Sofronio Española in Southern Palawan. These are supposedly due for shipment, but were stalled due to the suspension imposed by DENR since July 22.
“So yung sinasabi niya [Chan] na kailangan naming magmina para may mai-ship kami pandagdag, sa dami noon kailangan ba naming gawin 'yun?” Miguel said.
(What he [Chan] said was that we needed to continue mining to augment our preset stockpiles. But with the current volume of our stocks why we need to do that?)
Miguel added that CMDC has secured two mineral ore export permits (MOEP) from the DENR-MGB on November 21 and 24 for its two shipping vessels. The former left Palawan just this week, while the latter is still being loaded with nickel ore.
After the suspension order, De Jesus said his office conducted an inventory “to ensure that no materials will be shipped out.”
But he clarfied that only the stockpile at the mining firm’s pier are allowed to be exported, not those coming from the mining site itself.
Reached for comment, Chan said they are not convinced with the result of the investigation conducted by the DENR-MGB 4B.
“They said that there was no violation of the suspension order because the backhoe was just doing site preparation for planting in rehab. We disagree, that’s why we did not sign the report of the investigation team,” he told Rappler in a text message.
“We will make our own report and submit it to the secretary. Our video shows that the trucks loaded with earth aggregates went down to the stock pile area and this belies their argument of site preparation,” the environmental lawyer added.
The staunch anti-mining group has been at odds with mining firms in Palawan, especially with CMDC. The mining firm has also received a suspension order in 2014 due to the siltation it caused to Pasi and Pulot Rivers in Sofronio Española town. CMDC was also suspended in 2012 for the similar incident in its mining site in Narra town.