An audit of mining operation in the Philippines which has resulted in the government closing 23 mines and suspending five others has drawn harsh criticism from mining representative groups. They have stated that more than 19,000 people will lose their jobs once the mines, primarily nickel operations, are closed or suspended with the extended impacts to be felt by about 1.2 million.

This week the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Regina Lopez ordered the closures and suspensions following the months-long audit on the country’s 41 mines aimed at halting mining operations that she says have harmed the environment.

President Rodrigo Duterte, who last year said the Philippines could survive without a mining industry, has thrown his support behind the latest action. “You know, I support her. And there was never a time that I called her to slow down a little bit,” he said.

Chamber of Mines of the Philippines Artemio Disini told a briefing that the first option for affected miners would be to appeal to President Rodrigo Duterte “before going to the courts”.

“We have a total 1.2 million people affected including family members.”

Artemio Disini said, “Mining companies were invited by government to invest in the Philippines and signed contracts with them as partners in mineral resource development. By entering into these contracts, government is bound to observe due process. Secretary Lopez cannot just shut down mines without due process.”

The chamber has also questioned the way by which the DENR mine audit was conducted, highlighting the inclusion of anti-mining activists that tainted the process.

“We are not against a strict implementation of the law. In fact, we have often called for stricter monitoring of all mining operations in the country. What we question is the bias and partiality of the audit from the very start with Secretary Lopez’s early statements that she does not like mining and would like to see mines closed,” said executive vice president Nelia Halcon.

“With the inclusion of anti-mining groups in the audit teams, you can see that the audit was compromised. The participation of these anti-mining activists immediately raises the question of whether or not the results are impartial,” she added.

The chamber also criticises how the audit review findings were first made known through a press conference. “If the audit found violations, the law provides for a procedure. She should have filed the appropriate cases or invoked the arbitration clause of the mining agreements. Our members have not received any formal decision but have already been subjected to trial by publicity,” Nelia Halcon said.

“Unfortunately, it seems that her decision to close these mines was based merely on a quick fly-by over Surigao del Sur last week in a chopper during the height of the rainy season. It may not have been based on the review conducted by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB). Reports reaching us even said MGB personnel were even banned from her press conference,” she added.

The MGB said that more than 19,000 would lose their jobs while the closures would also hurt small businesses in host and neighbouring communities that arose due to the presence of mining operations. “The role of mining when it comes to employment generation whether direct or indirect in the rural areas cannot be overly emphasised. It is estimated that about four indirect jobs may be generated for every direct employment in the upstream and downstream sectors.”

The mining operations which will be closed include Zambales Diversified Metals Corp, BenguetCorp Nickel Mines Inc, Eramen Minerals Inc, Zambales Diversified Metals Corp, LNL Archipelago Minerals Inc, Mt Sinai Mining Exploration and Development Corp, Emir Minerals Corp, TechIron Mineral Resources Inc, AAMPHIL Natural Resources Exploration, Kromico Inc, Sino Steel Philippines HY Mining Corp and Oriental Synergy Mining Corp.

Other companies that will be closed are Wellex Mining Corp, Libjo Mining Corp, Oriental Vision Mining Philippines Corp, ADNAMA Mining Resources Corp, Claver Mineral Development Corp, Platinum Development Corp, CTP Construction and Mining Corp, Carrascal Nickel Corp, Marcventures Mining and Development Corp and Hinatuan Mining Corp - Tagana-an.

Regina Lopez said some of these companies are located within functional watersheds while others caused siltation of coastal waters and farmlands.

Companies which will be suspended are Berong Nickel Corp, Oceanagold Phils Inc, Lepanto Consolidated Mining Corp, Citinickel Mines and Development Corp, Ore Asia Mining Corp, Strong Built Mining Development Corp and Hinatuan Mining Corp - Manicani mine.

The decision on whether or not to allow Filminera Resources Corp to continue its operations at the Masbate Gold Project was deferred pending further investigation.

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