(UPDATE) The Chamber of Mines in the Philippines (COMP) and mining company Philex Mining both welcome Environment Secretary Gina Lopez's initiative to conduct an audit of mining companies.
In an interview with ANC's Dateline Philippines, Atty. Mike Toledo, Senior Vice President of Public and Regulatory Affairs of Philex Mining, reiterated the company's stand that they respect President Rodrigo Duterte's decision to hand the environment portfolio to Lopez, a staunch anti-mining advocate.
He added, Philex is open and ready to work with Lopez because they are "one with her as far as securing environmental protection, as far as securing or ensuring sustainable development," and that includes her call for an audit of mining contractors.
"We welcome and I am very glad Secretary Lopez would say that because an audit is indeed important. It is a fact that there are indeed some mining companies that, sadly, have not complied with certain requirements provided in the law," he said.
Lopez earlier said that she would audit all mining companies for compliance with safety standards, and non-compliance might result in suspension of the mines' environmental compliance certificate (ECC) and non-issuance of ore transport permits.
Toledo reported, however, that even before the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) mandated all mining companies to secure International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 14001 Certification in 2015, Philex already had one.
Aside from the ISO certification, he said Philex also received an Integrated Management System (IMS) certification, "which is an even higher and more encompassing than the requirements in the law, and in the new law that’s going to be implemented."
"The IMS certification was [received], if I’m not mistaken, sometime last year—one or two years ago; whereas the ISO certification was even prior to that," he said.
Toledo, who is the concurrent Head of the MVP Group of Companies Media Bureau, said they are also open to dialogue with the government and the possible review of the law on mining in light of the technological advances.
Meanwhile, the COMP is also open to dialogue with Lopez despite their "initial concerns" about her assignment.
Atty. Ronald Recidoro, COMP's vice-president for Legal and Policy, told ANC's Dateline Philippines in a separate interview that while they have yet to receive "feelers," their group also welcomes the possibility of a dialogue with Lopez.
"We welcome dialogue. We would love to be able to speak to her and tell her about our initiatives not just on the environmental front but also on the social development front of our operation," he said.
Recidoro is also confident Lopez's audit will not gravely affect the members of their chamber because most of their members are already ISO-certified.
"Of the 40 or so operating large scale mine companies operating in the country today, about 21 are members of the Chamber of Mines. And of the 21, 13 have already secured their I.S.O 14001 Certification," he said.
"The other eight have already applied and are currently undergoing the process. We are assured that they will be given their certifications shortly," he added.
On top of this, Recidoro said their members also spent over P1-billion for social development programs in their host communities in 2015 over and above their corporate social responsibility (CSR) undertakings.
"So, P1.5-billion spread throughout just 13 local government units, provinces, is not a small amount. It can do a lot for the host communities if it is just used right," he said.
He maintained, mining companies are not always detrimental to the communities, as some even thrived after mining operations, like Baguio and Toledo in Cebu.
"Under the Mining Act, mining companies are required to set aside enough funds to ensure that their rehabilitation works are fully-funded at least five years before their intended closure," he said.
The companies' CSR must also give host communities commercial opportunities, and Recidoro said that's why most of their mines operate in far-flung, remote areas in the countryside.
He agreed that it may be the small-scale mining companies that adversely affect the environment and they must be stopped because of that.
Nonetheless, the COMP will be embarking on an information campaign to counter the negative impression on the industry.
Semirara Mining and Power Corp. Chairman Isidro Consunji said he was "unclear" on the basis of Lopez's claim that its coal operations destroyed 80 percent of mangroves on Semirara Island.
"But we would like to assure Sec. Gina Lopez that our environment management plan complies with the directives of the DENR," Consunji said in a statement.
The company planted 873,000 mangroves and reforested 625 hectares since 2000, he said.