A large swath of what used to be green, rice farmlands in Didipio village in Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya province, about 300 km north of Manila, has become a landscape of devastation caused by the ongoing gold-copper mining operations of OceanaGold Corp, an Australian firm. Contributed photo

DENR to compel firms to do outright repair of mining sites

By Melvin Gascon

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is drafting new guidelines that will compel mining companies to perform “progressive” rehabilitation, or make repairs on the environmental damage they have caused even while their operations are ongoing.

In an interview, Analiza Rebuelta-Teh, DENR undersecretary for mining and climate change concerns, said the government needs an express legal basis, as the present law only requires rehabilitation at the end of the mining operation.

“This policy has led many of our sites abandoned, and we have no other recourse once these companies, many of which are foreign-owned, have left. That is what we are trying to correct,” she said.

The DENR is taking seriously the warning of President Duterte in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 23, where he warned mining companies to repair the damage they have caused on the environment, Rebuelta-Teh said.

“To the mining industry, I say this once again and maybe for the last time, do not destroy the environment or compromise our resources; repair what you have mismanaged. Try to change (your) management radically because this time you will have restrictive policies. The prohibition of open pit mining is one,” the President said in his SONA.

The DENR seeks to mend the “disconnect” in the mining companies’ production and environmental protection policies, wherein they gave focus only to their revenue generation while giving little regard for environment, according to Rebuelta-Teh.

The official announced that the scheduled release of the findings of a review of an audit of erring mining projects in the country was deferred anew, after the interagency Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) sought for an extension of its July 31 deadline.

She said the MICC pledged to release its findings next week, which decides the fate of 26 mining projects that were ordered either shut down or suspended by former Environment Secretary Regina Paz Lopez last year due to supposed violations of the mining law.

“With this review, we will be able to determine based on the scoring that they obtained whether their mining practices are acceptable, would need minor corrections, or if not acceptable, whether this would warrant suspension or cancellation of their mining license,” Rebuelta-Teh said.

If the mining sites are found to be compliant, the MICC may also recommend the lifting of the suspension, she added.

The council took on the task of reviewing the audit findings on the operations of 26 mining sites, mostly involving suspension of their operations or payment of fines and penalties.

Of the 26 mining projects, 13 operators sought reconsideration with the DENR, while the 13 others appealed Lopez’s order with the office of the President.

Once the MICC findings are released, the DENR will decide whether or not it will adopt these, Rebuelta-Teh said.

The postponement further pushed back the scheduled release of the much-delayed findings of the MICC, which was set to announce its review results in March, but was hampered reportedly by lack of funds.

The department is also reviewing mining policies to determine what alternative technologies may be adopted in place of open pit mining methods, which President Duterte has vowed to ban in the country.

“We will also come up with the maximum carrying capacity of mining sites as to how much mining activity one area can only hold, or whether other alternative activities will be more viable, such as eco-tourism or high-value agriculture,” she said. MG