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Lopez ruling baseless, say 2 firms

TWO mining firms have raised fists against the announcement by Environment Secretary Gina Lopez that its mine audit review suggested  a closure order for one and a suspension for the second.

Benguet Corp. Nickel Mines, Inc., the first and oldest mining company that carries an impressive portfolio of expanding gold and nickel mining operations across the country, immediately took exception to the announced order it said it had yet to receive.

OceanaGold itself said the listing of the company for suspension was unjustified and had no legal basis.

In a statement, Mick Wilkes, OceanaGold president and chief executive officer, said the decision announced by Lopez “is unjustified nor has any basis in law.”

Environment Secretary Gina Lopez
Meanwhile, Didipio village council members said they were saddened with the DENR’s pronouncement, saying this would affect the livelihood of more than 90 percent residents in the village.

Henry Guay, senior member of Barangay Didipio council, said the residents had a very “strong and solid” support to the ongoing operations of OceanaGold’s Didipio mine.

Guay said if the mining operations would be closed or suspended, the people’s livelihood would be affected and would spark long-abandoned suffering.

Guay said residents employed by the company, those into agriculture, services industry and many more would be very much affected economically if the mining operations shut down.

Before OceanaGold in Didipio, the people in at least 10 communities were so poor due to lack of access to modern agriculture, education, hospital, transportation, electricity, communication and many other basic human needs.

“Now we have them like other progressive communities in the country. We now have infirmaries for our sick people, schools for our children, good roads for our agricultural products and many more,” Guay said.

“Our old folks were so industrious and can survive from farming and animal fattening but they didn’t have educational facilities, shelter, clothing and for having no roads, our sick people do not reach hospitals alive,” he added.

He said many of their children could now go to college and even to prestigious schools through the company’s scholarship program, with many becoming teachers, engineers, managers and skilled workers. 

The Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources on Thursday named OceanaGold’s Didipio operation as the subject of a proposed suspension order, citing alleged declining agricultural production.

Benguet in a statement disclosed it had not received the order from the DENR but it appeared the basis of the order was the allegation BNMI was operating in a watershed area, an allegation the company was disputing.

“In fact its nickel project is within a mineral reservation – Zambales Chromite Mineral Reservation – and for which the company is paying five percent royalty fee to the government in addition to excise tax, among others,” Benguet said.

It added its Mineral Production Sharing Agreement prior to approval was given the requisite area clearance by the DENR.   

In its response to the mining audit report on Oct. 24, 2016, Benguet maintained its operation was fully compliant with environmental standards.  The lifting of the suspension order last Aug. 24, 2015 confirmed it had performed all the remediation conditions set by DENR.  

The latest suspension order issued on July 7, 2016 was not for environmental violations but for alleged filing of Kalikasan case, provincial moratorium on mining and complaints of anti-mining groups, which are premature and insufficient grounds for suspension, Benguet said.  

It added: “The company will avail (itself) of various legal options available to it to nullify the baseless Closure Order upon its receipt.”

In Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya, OceanaGold, which owns and operates the high-grade gold-copper Didipio Mine 270 kms north of Manila, said no further details of such an order were forthcoming at the press conference and that “we understand Didipio was one of six mining operations listed for proposed suspension, with another 21 mining operations listed for closure.”

The Company also said it had not received any formal suspension order from the DENR. 

“[Our] mining and processing activities are continuing and unabated at the Didipio Mine. There is no legal basis for any proposed suspension,” Wilkes said.

He said the Didipio operation was not in violation of any laws, rules or regulations, and the operation was not posing any threat to public, security, health, safety or otherwise.

“This decision announced by the DENR Secretary is unjustified nor has any basis in law. We have not received any show cause notice from the DENR nor have we received a suspension order. Should we ultimately receive a suspension order as suggested today (Thursday) we have very strong legal grounds to have it overturned,” Wilkes said. 

According to Wilkes, the Didipio Mine is a partnership with the Government of the Philippines through the Office of the President and has a strong social license to operate. 

“We are a large employer of Filipino nationals, and our operation delivers significant benefits to the local communities. As proof of this, Didipio was announced as the joint winner of the Presidential Mineral Industry Environmental Award in recognition of our exemplary performance in safe and environmentally responsible mining,” Wilkes added.

Lopez said these firms could still appeal the decision with the Office of the President. With Brenda Jocson

Topics: Secretary Gina Lopez , Benguet Corp. Nickel Mines Inc. , OceanaGold , Mick Wilkes , DENR , Henry Guay , Didipio village council
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