By Madelaine B. Miraflor
Once neglected, the mining sector now has all the attention it needs, with a couple of government-funded agencies currently conducting their own separate reviews on the country’s mine operations. Unfortunately, too, both audits are facing setbacks.
For some reasons, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and inter-agency Mineral Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) both ended up conducting their own separate reviews of the mining sector.
It all started when around this time last year former Environment Secretary Regina Paz Lopez went on a closure and suspension spree of mining companies.
In order to help resolve the issues surrounding these orders, MICC decided to conduct its own review of the matter, which should be completed by March this year.
The understanding since then is that it’s now up to MICC whether these companies should really be suspended or shutdown.
Apparently, the DENR is also doing a review on its own and Environment Chief Roy Cimatu stressed that the decision – whether to reverse or uphold Lopez’s order – that will come out in March is going to come from the DENR and will be final and executory.
This, according to him, would no longer need approval by the MICC or the Office of the President (OP).
However, DENR Undersecretary Jonas Leones, who is also now the agency’s spokesperson, said that the DENR will only be able to release the decisions on 13 of 26 mine suspension and closure orders next month.
“DENR will release audit [results] end of March,” he said, noting that only the 13 who have made their appeal with the agency will first get a resolution.
To recall, of the total number of mining companies Lopez ordered suspended and closed, 13 have appealed to the OP, while the remaining filed their appeal to the Office of the DENR Secretary.
The agency’s decision on the rest of the suspension and closure orders will be known much later.
For his part, Finance Undersecretary Bayani Agabin revealed that the MICC-led audit on mining operations is yet to start.
For the first time since the inception of the multisectoral oversight body five years ago, MICC, which is led by the Secretaries of DENR and Department of Finance (DOF), earlier decided to conduct a “fact-finding and science-based” review of mining operations across the country.
The first batch of mining operations covered by the review are the 26 sites arbitrarily ordered either closed or suspended by the previous DENR leadership. The MICC would supposedly have the preliminary results of this review by January of this year, with the final report to come out by March.
“They are just about to start, so no results yet,” Agabin said in a text message on Wednesday.
Agabin also “doesn’t think” that the MICC could come up with the final results of the audit in March because it would take “three months from the time they start” to finish it.
“It is an unfunded activity so we had to look for available funds and there is a process to clear it through,” Agabin further said.
Aside from the 26 mining suspension and closure orders, the DENR and the MICC would also have to look at the 75 Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) also facing suspensions.
Both Agabin and Leones agreed that this will be tackled after the issues on the mine closure and suspension are resolved.
When asked why two agencies, which are both funded by government resources, would have to look into this same mining issues simultaneously, nobody would answer.