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MICC begins review of erring mines

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MINERS working inside a mining tunnel of Mt. Diwata in the Compostela Valley. – AFP

THE Mining Industry Coordinating Committee (MICC) has finally started its review of 26 mines which were ordered either suspended or shuttered by former Environment Secretary Regina Paz L. Lopez more than a year ago.

In a statement, Finance Undersecretary Bayani H. Agabin said the review is now expected to be completed in six months, instead of three months.

The “fact-finding” and “science-based” review began this month with on-site visits to the mines.

Mr. Agabin said the first phase, which addresses the legal, technical and environmental concerns on mining operations, is targeted to be finished in three months.

The second phase, which covers the social and economic aspects of the mining operations, will take another three months, as requested by the technical review teams.

“When we were looking at this, we set the period for review for three months. But when the teams were formed, the concern, especially on the economic study, is that they will need the inputs from the technical, the legal and the environment,” Mr. Agabin was quoted in the statement as saying.

“If you will notice, the methodology for the social and economic aspects is that they will do a household survey. They were quite strict, the teams that we got. In fact, they didn’t want to continue on if there will not be an honest-to-goodness scientific survey done within the affected communities. That’s how meticulous they are,” he added.

Dr. Marian de los Angeles, the overall coordinator of the technical review teams, said the second phase of the review will include a “social cost benefit analysis, an evaluation of the changes in the ecosystem and a more in-detail look into the equity aspects” of the mining operations.

In February 2017, Ms. Lopez, a staunch environmentalist, ordered the suspension or closure of 26 of the country’s 41 mines for various violations, such as operating in watersheds and polluting surrounding bodies of water.

Initially the MICC has scheduled the review to start in June 2017, but has been delayed several times due to concerns over its operating budget, the terms of reference for the review teams, as well as the creation of a panel of experts to conduct the study. The review was supposed to be finished by end-2017.

The findings of the technical review teams are expected to form the basis of policy recommendations to President Rodrigo R. Duterte and concerned government agencies.

‘OPTIMISTIC’
Sought for comment, Chamber of Mines of the Philippines Executive Director Ronaldo S. Recidoro expressed hope the mining companies will get a fair assessment from the review teams.

“Apparently, na-delay sila (they were delayed). We remain positive given the developments of the DENR and the industry. We think the MICC review will be very technical, will be based on evidence, and we will get a fair assessment for our operations,” Mr. Recidoro told BusinessWorld in a phone interview.

“We would rather get it right than get it quick,” he added.

Twenty-five experts comprise the five teams, which are currently conducting the review of the 26 mine sites.

The MICC had previously said the clustering of the mines for review would be based on its location and type of ore. The first team would inspect gold, copper and nickel mines in the Cordillera Administrative Region, Cagayan Valley, Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan; while the second team will look into iron and nickel mines in Central Luzon.

The third team will visit chromite, nickel and iron mines in Eastern Visayas and CARAGA, while the fourth and fifth teams will check nickel and chromite mines in the CARAGA region.

The MICC in October agreed to conduct another review of the mines in 2019 and succeeding ones every two years thereafter, in keeping with its mandate under Executive Order No. 79.

Mr. Agabin previously said the MICC will start a similar review on the DENR’s order to cancel 75 other projects still in pre-production stage, as well as the standing ban on open-pit mines, to aid in future policy decisions. — Elijah Joseph C. Tubayan and Janina C. Lim