ENVIRONMENT Secretary Regina Lopez was accused of milking the suspended mining firms by requiring them to put up multi-million-peso trust funds amounting to P2 million per hectare of “disturbed land” before they could be given a permit to remove or ship out of the country their nickel ore stockpiles.
The trust fund that could run up to billions of pesos would be assigned to non-government organizations of Lopez’s choosing to do the rehabilitation.
Lopez issued a memorandum allowing the suspended mining firms to remove their stockpiles from the affected areas.
The new fee was separate from and on top of the existing rehabilitation trust fund set up by the government as required under the law.
Dated Jan. 30, 2017, Lopez’s memorandum, a copy of which was furnished the Manila Standard, shows that all suspended mining firms were ordered to each open a trust fund account in the amount of P2 million forr every hectare of disturbed land before they can be allowed to remove their stockpiles from mining areas and given export permits.
Several suspended mining firms are reported to have been required to put up trust funds ranging from as low as P150 million to as high as P300 million depending on the volume or area of affected mining sites before they are allowed to remove their stockpile and issued an export permit.
At least eight suspended firms complied with the order and were allowed to remove and ship their mined ores out of the country.
Some mining firms have questioned the order for being redundant and burdensome since most of them mine large of tracts of land.
Sources from the mining industry also said that apart from the trust fund, suspended mining outfits are also required to deposit P1 million to the fund for every vessel of ore shipped out.
However, there is no such requirement under DENR Memorandum Order No. 2010-07 or previous guidelines before a mineral ore export permit is granted.
Sources added that the mining firms who followed the DENR on the trust fund were likewise subject to the guidelines set by the Lopez in the creation of the trust fund, including the setting up of an NGO that would identify the recipients of the trust fund, the drafting of all company documents and the undertaking of the rehabilitation operations.
In one case, added the sources, DENR Undersecretary Philip Camara ordered a suspended mining firm to hire a lawyer from a favored outfit to handle all the documents pertinent to the trust fund and its recipient NGO, including the provision that in the event of a corporate failure, the entire trust fund would be turned over to the Natural Resources Development Corp. and the Philippine Forest Corp., both of which Lopez controls.
“Lopez is gravely abusing her power as DENR secretary as she is unduly legislating here and using her power to force companies to set up NGOs to manage the trust funds and deciding how and to whom the funds should be used. This could be extortion. This should be looked into very seriously,” one source said.
Lopez is up against at least 20 oppositors at the Commission on Appointments) and reports about her lawyering for a company controlled by her foreigner-friend, a Frenchman, have cast serious doubts about her reputation.
She admitted lobbying with the Department of Energy to speed the release of the permit for a $100-million solar farm in Zamboanga on behalf of the French company, EcoGlobal Inc. whose head was her former subordinate at the DENR.
EcoGlobal, Inc. footed the P2-million bill for Lopez’s recent trip to Paris purportedly to thresh out matters about the Pasig River Rehabilitation Project to be carried out by EcoGlobal Inc.
Lopez is facing graft charges with the Ombudsman as a result of her week-long all-expense paid Paris trip.
Lopez will be summoned anew by the CA on May 2, when Congress resumes its sessions to allow her to dispute the allegations raised against her.
On May 3, the CA will decide on whether or not to reject or confirm Lopez.
Also on Wednesday, professor Carlo Arcilla of the UP National Institute of Geological Sciences said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources had “serious issues of governance” and said past directors must be held accountable for allowing the violation of mining laws.
He suggested this begin with an audit of the Environmental Management Bureau and Mines and Geosciences Bureau.
“It takes two to tango,” he said, referring to the supposed violations in the provisions of the mining laws by several mine firms. With Rio N. Araja
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