Audit of operating mines to raise awareness on responsible mining — MGB

MANILA — The Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) on Wednesday said the new round of audit of all operating mines in the country ordered by Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Regina Paz Lopez is being implemented to raise the bar on responsible mining.

MGB Director Leo Jasareno, in an interview with the media, said they would impose a stricter set of criteria in their audit, which covers some 105 metallic and non-metallic mines nationwide — including quarrying and small-scale mining.

“The comprehensive review will focus on the companies’ compliance with the requirements of the Mining Act of 1995, Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC), Forestry Law, and other laws pertaining to mining. We want to see whether an specific violation would entail suspension of operations,” he said.

Jasareno said the new round of audit will look beyond regulatory requirements, but also on social and economic impact of the mining operations nationwide.

Citing the results of their initial review on mining companies, the MGB chief confirmed that there are frequent violators of mining rules and regulations.

“You’ll be surprised with the number of companies violating the conditions of their contract… majority of which were slapped with equivalent amount of penalty depending on the discretion of who conducted the review,” he said.

“With the new round of audit, there will be a list of criteria they need to comply with, otherwise they may face suspension,” he added.

Meanwhile, a coalition of organizations and groups who acts as guardians of environment on Wednesday welcomed the call of the DENR chief of a new mining law.

“ATM (Alyansang Tigil Mina) welcomes the pronouncements of DENR Secretary Gina Lopez on mining issues. Particularly, we support the moves to immediately conduct an audit of all mining project, a moratorium on mining applications, and her personal position against open-pit mining. Our alliance also believes that Secretary Lopez made the correct call in stating publicly that we need a new mining law,” the group said in a statement.

According to the group, the mining audit and the moratorium on mining applications are provisions under Executive Order 79 of the Aquino administration, and so these administrative priorities are well past due.

“We commend Secretary Lopez for fast-tracking these audit and putting in place the moratorium within the first 30 days of the Duterte administration. We recommend to Secretary Lopez to ensure that the audit is not limited to technical and operational matters of mining projects but also look into social, economic, political, health and gender impacts of these mining projects to the host-communities,” it said.

ATM said it is also critical that pending/live legal cases or complaints against mining companies and their operations are investigated as part of the audit.

“We categorically support the ban on open-pit mining policy, particularly in areas designated and identified by the DENR-MGB as ‘No-Go Zones’,” they said.

These no-go zones have been reflected in maps produced by MGB, and should be strictly implemented, it added.

ATM believes that responsible mining remains to be a myth, and it has no legal definition yet.

The proposed Alternative Minerals Resources Bill (AMMB) otherwise known as the Philippine Mineral Resources Act (PMRA) pending in Congress is the group’s proposal to frame the legal and operational definition of responsible mining.

“We challenge both the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (CoMP) and the DENR to seriously consider the AMMB as a starting point to discuss the concept of responsible mining,” it stressed.

“We assert that responsible mining cannot be reduced to ISO certification, as earlier proposed by DENR-MGB,” it added.

The group also expressed support to Lopez’s attempt to bring change to DENR.

“The mining-affected communities, their support groups, and even LGUs (local government units) are more than willing to submit reports, evidence, affidavits, petitions, testimonies, case studies and other relevant information to push forward with her change agenda within the DENR, in alignment with the instructions of President (Rodrigo) Duterte,” it said. Lilybeth Ison/ PNA/