Palawan mining firm operating despite suspension order, says NGO
PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Philippines – A mining company in Sofronio Española town is still operating even under suspension order, a non-government organization here alleged, but the company says they are actually rehabilitating the area.
Palawan NGO Network Incorporated (PNNI) said their para-enforcers discovered on November 23 that a backhoe of Citinickel Mines and Development Corporation (CMDC) was digging and extracting nickel ore "directly from the mountainside and not from their stockpile."
"Why is it operating?" PNNI executive director Robert Chan asked in a letter he sent to the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) on Monday, November 28.
He said they were able to capture it in photographs and video, which they will submit to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Mines and Geosciences Bureau (DENR-MGB), and to Environment Secretary Gina Lopez. He, however, has refused to give digital copies of those to the media.
PNNI noted that the CMDC is "currently under suspension by virtue, among other infractions, a Cease and Desist Order" from the DENR.
The suspension was issued in July 22, 2016, after the mining firm operated in a restricted zone, an area under the Environmentally Critical Areas Network (ECAN) of Palawan where mining is prohibited.
Chan said that while the mining firm is suspended, it is not banned from hauling and transporting its stockpile since it has secured a transport permit. However, he added, that digging and extraction is another story.
"While this may be seemingly acceptable, this activity does not extend to digging and extraction in an apparent bid to pass it off as part of their preset stockpile," his letter continued.
However, CMDC Community Relations Manager Pamela Miguel explained that the activity is part of their rehabilitation process of mined out areas, local news outlet Palawan News reported.
"Hindi kami nagmimina, nagma-mine rehab kami (We are not mining the area but doing mine rehabilitation instead)," Miguel said.
Miguel added that they are preparing the said area for reforestation by fixing the slope to prevent erosion and ensure that the tree seedlings will grow.
"Lahat ng bagay na ‘yun, involves hauling also ng lupa (All of those things also involve hauling of soil),” she said.
Chan, meanwhile, questioned PCSD for not retracting the SEP clearance it issued to CMDC although it disregarded the ECAN zone.
PCSD, a multi-sectoral and interdisciplinary body, was created by virtue of Republic Act 7611 or the Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) for Palawan Act.
Primarily, this environmental body is mandated to implement SEP's main strategy, the ECAN, which is "a system of graded protection and development control over the whole of Palawan."
To attain its objectives, the PCSD promulgated Administrative Order No. 6 on the SEP Clearance System through which all projects are based on ECAN Zoning of Palawan. It may give a SEP clearance to projects which pass its three guiding principles – ecological viability, social acceptability and integrated approach.
PCSD Staff spokesperson John Vincent Fabello said the appeal for the rescinding of SEP Clearance it issued to CMDC – should it push through – has to undergo thorough investigation by the Council's Adjudication Board.
He told Rappler that the PCSD will be sending its concerned staff to validate the report on the ground.
PNNI, meanwhile, joined the MGB personnel during the validation it conducted in Sofronio Española town on Wednesday, Nov. 30. Whatever result it may yield, the staunch anti-mining group said they would still be lobbying for the cancellation of CMDC's Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA), Palawan News reported.
As of press time, the CMDC Mine Rehabilitation Fund Committee (MRFC) is holding its meeting on Thursday, December 1, wherein the issue was also raised, Rappler has learned.
In a text message, Miguel told Rappler that they will be sending out an official statement to explain their side, soon after the MRFC meeting ends. – Rappler.com