By Madelaine B. Miraflor
Some 18 major mining operations in the Philippines, one of the highest mineralized countries in the world, are undergoing a strict three-month government audit.
Environment Undersecretary for Mining Concerns Analiza Rebuelta-Teh said that after months of delay, the second round of mining audit led by the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) has finally pushed through.
“It already started this month. There has been some field visits already,” Teh said.
The MICC, co-chaired by Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, started the three-month audit with Apex Mining Corp.’s mining operation at Compostella Valley, which was confirmed later on by the company’s chief operating officer, Louie Sarmiento.
“They just completed the audit last Thursday,” Sarmiento said in a text message.
Next on MICC’s list would be Atlas Consolidated Mining and Development Corp., which is largely owned by SM Group. After that, the MICC is hoping to cover this month the audit of the other big mining firms like Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corp., Philex Mining Corp., Platinum Group Metals Corp., Taganito Mining Corp., Cagdianao Mining Corp., and Pacific Nickel Philippines Inc.’s operations in Surigao del Norte and Dinagat Islands.
For December, the audit will target the operations of TechIron Resources, Inc., Filmera Resources Corp., FCF Minerals Corp., and Century Peak Corporation’s Rapid City Nickel and Casiguran Nickel Projects.
The last leg of the audit will be done in January and will cover the operations of Agata Mining Ventures, SR Metals, Inc., Philsaga Mining Corp., Greenstone Resources Corp., and Tribal Mining Corp.
All the mine audits will run for three days. After that, the government will need about six months to assess and prepare for the results, which should be out in June.
To conduct this audit, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Department of Finance (DOF) had to release P10 million each.
The audit strictly covers the environmental, economic, social, legal and technical aspects of the mining operations.
To recall, 12 of the mining companies that are now under scrutiny – including Philex Mining and Agata Mining and Rio Tuba Nickel Mining – already passed the audit carried by former Environment Secretary Regina Paz Lopez in 2016.
The Philippines, a nation that is highly critical of the extractive industries, has one of the largest untapped minerals in the world, which currently stood at $840 billion.
However, the mining industry contributes only 0.85 percent, or P134.5 billion, to the country’s total gross domestic product (GDP) amid a lot of setbacks including a ban on open-pit mine that was imposed by former Environment Secretary Regina Paz Lopez.
The government also doesn’t allow the approval of new mining projects based on the Executive Order 79 signed by former President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
As a result, there are only 48 metallic mines operating in the country to date – 30 of which are nickel, eight are gold, three are copper mines, three are chromite mines, and the remaining four are iron mines.
26 of these companies faced multiple, overlapping reviews over the past years, starting with the suspension and closure orders imposed to them by Lopez.
Dante Bravo, president of Global Ferronickel Holdings Inc., the third largest nickel ore producer in the Philippines and the largest single lateritic mine exporter in the world, earlier said that the mining industry undergoing “too much audit” is now the new normal.
He said that after the regime of Lopez, a staunch environment advocate, mining companies now have to go through three or more audits every year.
Aside from the audit that MICC conducts regularly, the DENR also conducts two separate audits — one that is led by the central office and the other one by the regional office.
This, while local government units (LGU) and host barangays also require mining companies to present annual reports on their operations.