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Groups want moratorium on all mining operations

MANILA -- Various environmental groups are seeking from President-elect Rodrigo Duterte green justice for mining operations' violations in various provinces nationwide.

Sanlakas, Concerned Citizens of Sta Cruz Zambales (CCOS), Didipio Earth-Savers Multi-purpose Association (DESAMA), Save Manicani Movement (SAMAMO), Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC), ABS-CBN Lingkod Kapamilya Foundation, Inc. and Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) raised such plea as they denounced mining operations in Nueva Vizcaya, Zambales, Palawan and Eastern Samar provinces for violating environmental laws and human rights in communities concerned.

“The most immediate that we can demand is a moratorium on all mining operations in the country while the Duterte administration reviews and addresses loopholes in the current mining policy," ATM National Coordinator Jaybee Garganera.said in the groups' 2016 World Environment Day message.

He said the groups also expect review and evaluation of all mining projects as well as suspension of and sanctions for erring mining firms in the country.

Aside from pushing for repeal of RA 7942 (Mining Act of 1995), ATM highlighted need to enact the Alternative Minerals Management Bill (AMMB).

AMMB presents a "sustainable, rational, needs-based minerals management policy geared towards effective utilization of mineral resources for ecologically-sound national industrialization and modernization of agriculture," noted ATM.

Affected communities explained a petition filed before Supreme Court (SC) questioning the fiscal regime provided by the Mining Act of 1995 specifically Sections 80-81 that allows for inequitable sharing of wealth from the country's mineral resources contrary to the 1987 Constitution.

Among subjects of the SC petition is Didipio Mine of OceanaGold Philippines, Inc.(OGPI) in Nueva Vizcaya.

Communities concerned assert that the mining concession, which is 100 percent foreign-owned, does not allow them to maximize the full potential of mineral resources there.

“OGPI’s contract other than allowing them to mine, gives them water, easement and timber rights and right to use explosives while only needing to pay a mere two percent excise tax," said DESAMA chairperson Rufino Licyayo.

He described the two percent as "worthless," saying OGPI was given six years' tax holiday with two years possible extension.

That means the company is free of tax obligations six to eight years out of the mine life's 17 years, he noted.

"We are literally giving away our mineral wealth." he said.

In Zambales, Sanlakas' Atty. Aaron Pedrosa cited several cases filed at the Ombudsman, a petition for Mandamus and another Writ of Kalikasan.

In June 2014, a Case of Mandamus and Temporary Restraining Order against Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Sec. Ramon Paje, Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) Director Leo Jasareno ang MGB Region III Acting Director Danilo Uykieng was filed in the Court of Appeals, demanding the offices to resume suspension orders against LnL Archipelago Minerals, Inc., Eramen Minerals Inc. and BenguetCorp Nickels Mines Inc. (BNMI).

Local people’s organization CCOS claimed the suspension orders were lifted despite failure of the mining companies to comply with respective obligations.

Pedrosa said continued illegal operations of these four mining companies in Zambales are a slap to people in communities concerned as they're risking life and limb and lost their livelihood.

Seven people died during typhoon 'Lando' in October last year due to flashfloods and overflowing rivers brought by the extractive activities.

“Barely a week after the May 9, 2016 elections, BNMI and DMCI immediately resumed and intensified their operations when the suspension orders against them were lifted by MGB Region III,” Pedrosa said.

For Palawan, Atty. Gerthie Mayo-Anda from ELAC narrated the case filed in the Ombudsman in 2012 against decisions and action by Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) which they believe is biased for the mining industry.

“PCSD is supposed to secure Palawan from being destroyed yet it issued clearances for mining operations within natural old growth and residual forests.” she said.

She also said despite EO 79, a new mining project will be opened this year and operated by Ipilan Nickel Corp.

"Unfortunately, Chinese demand for nickel is more important that protecting and conserving our environment and natural resources - despite issuance of EO 79 which we hoped would have secured Palawan as a no-go zone, mining is still allowed in the 'Last Frontier,'" she said.

Final decisions on the different petitions and cases are still pending.

In Eastern Samar's Manicani island, mining-affected communities question how Hinatuan Mining Corporation (HMC) was allowed to gather nickel ore stockpile in the past weeks despite suspension of its operations since 2002.

The mining operations were suspended by DENR due to environmental concerns yet mining companies are still issued ore transport permit to ship nickel ore for processing elsewhere.

Tension grips the island as HMC pursues loading from its mineral stockpile while residents led by SAMAMO continue to hold a barricade against the hauling.

In all the cases presented, environment and human rights advocates question the action and inaction of government agencies that allow mining to continue despite strong opposition and evidence of environmental and human rights violations.(PNA)

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