MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on Friday, July 14, filed a criminal complaint against Ipilan Nickel Corporation (INC) for its "massive indiscriminate tree cutting" in Brooke's Point, Palawan despite the cancellation of its environmental compliance certificate (ECC).
In the complaint lodged with the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor of Palawan, DENR accused INC of cutting down 677 trees in an area not covered by the the firm's tree cutting permit – a clear violation, DENR said, of Section 77 of Presidential Decree 705 or the Forestry Code of the Philippines.
Palawan provincial environment and natural resources officer Felizardo Cayatoc said the filing of the complaint was based on Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu's instruction to "not let INC off the hook."
"INC is criminally liable and Secretary Cimatu wants to ensure that irresponsible miners do not get around the law," Cayatoc said in a statement Friday.
The criminal complaint involves a 1.7-hectare area out of the 24-hectare forest cleared by INC in Barangay Maasin. According to the DENR, this area is "undoubtedly outside the firm's tree cutting permit."
INC's existing one-year tree cutting permit issued in May 2016 was deemed no longer effective since December 2016, when former Environment Secretary Gina Lopez ordered the cancellation of the mining company's ECC.
But based on initial reports, the INC cut around 7,000 trees, majority of which are premium native species, such as malabayabas, apitongbaboy, nato, and agoho. (READ: DENR begins retrieval of trees cut by Palawan mining firm)
Last May, the DENR issued a show cause order asking the mining company to explain its tree-cutting activities
According to the department, INC insists its permit is still valid since it had filed a motion for reconsideration on the ECC's cancellation.
"Granting without admitting that INC's tree cutting permit was valid, the DENR has a strong case against the company on the 1.7-hectare cleared area," DENR-Mimaropa Regional Director Natividad Bernardino noted.
Brooke's Point community environment and natural resources officer Conrado Corpuz said Friday's complaint is "just the first in a series of cases against the INC."
Other charges will be filed once the inventory of the trees cut in the remaining 22.3 hectares is completed, he added.
The DENR is also looking into reports that the mining firm has illegally constructed a mine yard road within its mining area.
A team composed of technical and legal personnel from the DENR, the local government, and the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) was sent to the area for an ocular inspection.
Brooke's Point Mayor Jean Feliciano, according to the DENR, is also "batting to revoke" INC's strategic environmental plan clearance issued by the PCSD. – Rappler.com
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.