Mining firms use FOI, ask DENR for specific audit findings

MANILA, Philippines – Mining firms are using the Freedom of Information (FOI) measure in a bid to compel the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to release the full results of its audit on mining operations.

Environment Secretary Gina Lopez had announced the closure of 23 mines and the suspension of 5 others last Thursday, February 2, following the completion of a months-long audit.

While Lopez has explained that the sanctions were imposed because the firms were wreaking havoc on the environment, the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) said it has yet to be allowed to see the full, detailed results of the audit. (READ: Confusion over the mining list: How did DENR decide on closure?)

"We're a bit surprised why this thing ever started... During the term of Secretary Lopez's predecessor we have complied with ISO1401 which was a requirement of the Philippines' Mines and Geosciences Bureau at the time," said COMP chairman Artemio Disini following a COMP meeting on Tuesday, February 7.

"All of the mining firms complied with this. Since this was learned by the Secretary, she changed her tack and then [ordered] an audit of the mining firms. The results of the audit have not been given due process and that's why the chamber has just decided on a freedom of information request on the Secretary and the DENR to provide all the information relative to the audit," he added.

Specific findings

COMP vice president for legal and policy Ron Recidoro said they want to get specific findings for each of the 28 affected firms. (READ: After DENR's mining audit, what happens now?)

"We want to see it so that we will know the levels of exceedance that have been found because we feel that if there have been violations of the Clean Water Act or the Clean Air Act, these laws provide for a specific procedure," he said.

For instance, added Recidoro, cases can first be filed with the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) or the Pollution Adjudication Board. (READ: Lopez: Mining audit team wanted fines, I chose closures)

He added that court action could be sought if Lopez fails to act on their request.

"If she fails to do that, the usual legal avenues would be going to court to compel her to release the report," Recidoro said. "But it's absurd that we would have to go to court to compel her to release the report which should have been known to us at the first instance."

Potential economic fallout

COMP has also submitted an update to its report on the economic impact that could result from the mining closures.

It estimates that there would be 15,526 direct job losses, 78,104 indirect job losses, and 97,630 induced job losses coming from industries that provide support to mining operations.

An estimated P22 billion in investments would also "definitely be put on hold, judging from an unstable investment environment."

COMP noted that 20% of the gross regional domestic product (GRDP) as computed by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) in the Mimaropa and Caraga regions is contributed by the mining industry.

It also said the mining industry as a whole contributed P10.1 billion in taxes for 2015. Of the total amount, the 28 firms ordered closed or suspended account for 46% or P4.6 billion.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III earlier ordered treasurers of municipalities and cities with mining operations to determine potential revenue losses of local government units. – Rappler.com