Lopez warns Semirara Mining: 'Get your act together'

MANILA, Philippines – The environment department's audit on all existing mines in the country is not sparing any mining operation – not even that of the biggest coal mine and open-pit mine in the Philippines.

Environment Secretary Gina Lopez revealed on Thursday, August 11, that they will be issuing a show cause order to Semirara Mining and Power Corporation, and the company will be asked to "get [their] act together" and explain why it should not be held liable for several violations resulting from its operations in Caluya, Antique.

"There are basic issues that were not solved in mining in Semirara," Environment Undersecretary Leo Jasareno said on Thursday. 

"The open pit is now below sea level and Semirara Island has an area of only about 5,000 hectares, and the present pit occupies about 40 hectares. But there is a new expansion area of about 600 hectares."

While he has no estimate yet on the mine life of the expansion, Jasareno said the 600 hectares is "where the future of Semirara is".

"The issue is, what will happen after mining? How would DMCI do rehabilitation of the island if you have such gaping hole for a small area, and then you have the mine wastes that were dumped along the coasts?" he added.

Semirara Mining and Power Corporation is a subsidiary of DMCI Holdings, Inc. Semirara's Molave Coal Project was issued an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) on April 29, 2016.

But in a project brief, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) listed the many complaints against their mining operations, as well as the environmental degradation in the area:

*Source: Report of investigation conducted on April 15-17, 2009 

Other unresolved issues include the liability to maintain post-mining facilities perpetually/abandonment plan, and the impact on downstream of coastal seas.

The department has directed the audit team to "further assess project area and validate allegation of environmental impacts". 

'Tricky problem'

Lopez, a known anti-mining advocate before her appointment to the DENR, lamented about the poverty incidence (47%) in Caluya. In contrast, she said DMCI in 2013 posted a P12.6 billion revenue for coal production.

But she admitted that the Semirara mine is a "tricky problem", since the country is still dependent on coal. (READ: Review of PH energy policy underway)

"Right now, the energy mix in the country is more inclined towards coal, so this is not as easy to just close because if you do that, it will affect – you don't want brownouts and things like that," Lopez explained. 

Boilers of existing coal-fired power plants in the country, according to Lopez, are designed only for "low grade, dirty, cheap coal, which is making our people sick."

"While [Semirara is] producing the coal which is needed for the country, they can't continue to adversely affect the lives of our farmers and fishermen. That's not right at all. They have to get their act together."

With the show cause order, Jasareno said DENR will take into consideration the fact that Semirara supplies major coal-fired power plants and accounts for 92% of coal production in the country.

"So in a worst scenario, power generation may be affected, so titingnan ng department 'yun (so the department will look at that), how that can be addressed…. So that the DENR will not be blamed: 'Sinara niyo, tumaas kuryente (You closed it down, the cost of electricity went up)," he explained.

But Jasareno vowed that the department will make an informed decision on what to do with Semirara's ECC. (READ: Duterte: 'Amend, suspend, revoke' environmental permits, if needed)

"There will always be a middle ground where the DENR can attain its objective without causing suffering to the public," he added. (READ: DENR's Lopez: 'I won't allow people to suffer')

Lopez, for her part, said the mining firm must do its job well and not kill the island. 

"You can't do something like this if your heart is alive. You can't do something like this if you love people. You can't. You only do it because your heart is dead. It's dead, you can't feel. People suffer, you don't care. All you care about is the money that you make," she added.

The Semirara mine is one of Lopez' examples on Thursday, as she proposed to change her department's processes when it comes to the issuance of ECCs. (READ: DENR: Review of Tampakan open-pit mine on 'final stage')

The DENR has already suspended the operations of 8 mining companies since its audit began in July. 

Two more companies in Guiuan, Eastern Samar, will be suspended on Friday, August 12. The audit is expected to end by mid-August. – Rappler.com

Jee Y. Geronimo

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.

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