MANILA – (UPDATE) Environment Secretary Gina Lopez said on Thursday she has asked two of the country’s biggest mines and a forest reserve in the capital to explain why their permits should not be cancelled despite violations, adding that she would revamp the process of granting such clearances.
Lopez said Environment Compliance Certificates (ECC) were granted to the Semirara coal mine, the long-delayed Tampakan gold and copper mine, and the La Mesa Watershed even before they could fully comply with safety requirements.
The ECCs could be suspended if the operators fail to give a satisfactory response to the “show cause” order, and a decision would be out by the third week of the month.
“I don’t like this procedure at all. Because I prefer a procedure where you do all the conditions… Why do you even give it (ECC) and put conditions? Just don’t give it at all,” Lopez told a televised news conference.
“That’s the not law but that’s where I wanna go. In my term, I want to reverse the procedure of giving an ECC,” she said.
Lopez has suspended eight mining operations since July 1 when she started checking compliance with environment laws.
“This is my conviction and this is my aspiration that the resources of the country should be enjoyed by the Filipino people. It is in that line, I would call that social justice,” she said.
“It is in that line that the mining audit extends to all. We are not political. We are not witch-hunting, large scale, small scale,” she said.
Semirara is the country’s largest coal producer and operates a 600 MW coal-fired power plant, with plans to expand capacity to 1,200 MW. It is the only power producer in the country that produces its own fuel.
The Tampakan project had been put on hold for years due to a local government ban on open-pit mining. The $5.9-billion (P275-billion) project was touted as the single largest foreign direct investment in the country.
The La Mesa Watershed, the only nature park in Metro Manila, covers a thicket of land about the size of Paris. About 300,000 people visit its 50 kilometers of nature trails every year, according to park officials.
DMCI Holdings’ operations “will kill” Semirara Island by leaving a “gaping hole” in the ground, Lopez said. The mining pit has sunk below sea level, according to Jasareno.
Nearly half of the island is poor even as the company’s revenues reached billions of pesos, Lopez said.
“They (people) have suffered for a long, long period of time and this is not acceptable,” she said.
Lopez said a planned subdivision in the watershed, with its 97 buildings, threatened to contaminate the reservoir in La Mesa, which supplies drinking water of Metro Manila’s 12 million people.
Citing two scientific studies, Lopez said the capital’s two water concessionaires were “not equipped” to handle household waste water.
Tampakan, she said, would carve a hole in the ground the size of 700 football fields and displace 3,000 farmers.
“This open-pit mine of 700 football fields is going to be there for eternity. It will never go away,” Lopez said, adding, “It’s grossly unfair.”