By Madelaine B. Miraflor
Issues surrounding the contested mining suspension and closure orders imposed by former Environment Secretary Regina Paz Lopez in February last year is set to drag on further, as the final decision on the consolidated mining audit results will definitely not come out soon.
Last month, the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) adopted the report of its Technical Review Teams on the review they did on the performance of 26 mining companies that were ordered closed and suspended by Lopez.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) also came up with its own review on the matter, which is now being consolidated by the MICC with its own report.
Once the report is consolidated, it will serve as the ultimate guide for Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu to decide on the orders, which he will recommend to President Rodrigo Duterte for final approval.
But as of now, MICC is yet to come up with a consolidated set of findings for the mining audit.
“The review team requested for extension of submission of their report,” DENR Undersecretary for Mining Concerns Analiza Rebuelta-Teh said. “They said they will submit it [to the DENR] next week.”
Teh said that once the report is available, it will take the DENR around “seven to 10 working days” to make a decision that can finally be submitted to the Office of the President.
The review on the mining orders particularly zeroed in on the companies’ practices. The review team rated these certain practices as acceptable (3.0), minor corrections needed (2.0), major reforms needed (1.0) and not acceptable (0).
The word on the street is that of all the mining companies that were reviewed, no one received “0”. Most of them, however, got “2.0”.
The review assessed the practices of these miners in terms of legal, technical, environmental, social and economic aspects.
As this happens, the DENR is now working towards the declaration of more mineral reservation areas throughout the country to generate additional non-tax revenues for the government.
Teh said the DENR, through the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), is now in the process of identifying “mineralized areas and high mineral potential areas, including all existing operating mines” for declaration as mineral reservations.
The Philippine Mining Act states that when the national interest so requires, such as when there is a need to preserve strategic raw materials for industries critical to national development, or certain minerals for scientific, cultural or ecological value, the President may establish mineral reservations upon the recommendation of the MGB Director through the Environment Secretary.
Mining operations in existing mineral reservations may be established through a contractor, which should pay 10 percent share of all royalties and its revenues to the government.
Teh issued the statement in the wake of news reports regarding an Audit Observation Memorandum (AOM) issued by the Commission on Audit (COA) Regional Office XIII on the alleged failure of the DENR to collect almost P2.6 billion in royalty fees from five mining companies in Caraga region.
The AOM stated that royalties should have been imposed against the mining companies since they extract mineral resources that are owned by the government.
However, Teh clarified that the present mining law requires payment of royalty fees only in areas declared as mineral reservations.