Benguet Corp. on Thursday cried foul when National Bureau of Investigation and Environment department agents seized its nickel ores up for export and arrested the crew on board the vessel holding the ores at the Port of Candelaria in Santa Cruz, Zambales.
Company executive director Isidro Alcantara said the agents arrived early on Thursday without any prior notice and without a mission order that would have sanctioned their action.
“This action is tainted with illegality and potential criminal liability,” Alcantara said.
“We follow the law, we abide by the process, we intend to seek clarification from the President. I am confident that once the President hears about what happened, this will be resolved.”
In another development, Benguet belied the statements made by DENR Secretary Gina Lopez that the company is to blame for the condition of the open pit in San Marcelino, Zambales. It said the statements were false, misinformed, misleading and the same unfairly and maliciously impugned the reputation of the company.
Lopez erroneously assailed Benguet for abandoning the Dizon Mine and failing to rehabilitate it during her recent visit to the site with the media in tow. Benguet Corp. said that more than 20 years ago, Dizon Copper and Silver Mines Inc. (DCSMI) took over control and management of Dizon Mine as well as ful responsibility for its operation, maintenance and rehabilitation.
On the Candelaria port case, Benguet Corp. officials at the site said Lopez ordered the raid and arrest of the barge crew based on a memorandum order signed March 28, 2017 that disallow the transport and export of mineral ores.
Alcantara said the company did not receive any notice nor a copy of the alleged order.
He added Benguet is complete with all pertinent documents that will support their operations from extraction to transport and export.
He likened the incident to the issuance of suspension/closure order of some 26 mines where Lopez alleged that an order has been issued but none of the affected mines received any.
“I think, with the DENR, this is the new norm—shoot first, ask questions later,” he noted.
“What we most worried of is the arrest of the crew. We don’t know their whereabouts or where the NBI brought them. But we received intelligence reports that the arrested crew were brought to the house of a certain Dr. Molino, who is a close friend of Lopez and a militant anti-mining activist,” he added.
Benguet also expressed concern that company cannot reconcile the fact why the crew was arrested and why they weren’t brought to police custody instead.
The crew are not employees of Benguet Corp. per se, they are part of a contracting agency that serves to transport the nickel ores to their point of destination.
Benguet Corp. has a pending appeal to the President not to recognize the closure order issued by the Environment department.
“This is a clear case of disrespect and disregard to the President. The pending appeal means that everything should be status quo unless a decision is made,” Alcantara said.
In addition, the company also complains about another Environment order that unabashedly requires all mining companies to pay the P2 million per hectare as rehabilitation fund.
Benguet has, so far, disturbed all 300 hectares of raw land in the process carrying out its mining operations.
This means about P600 million in rehabilitations fees that the company supposedly owed the government.
Compared to other mining tenements, Benguet’s is a small mine. There are miners with permits to operate thousands of hectares of mining land that spells billions of pesos the department can collect anytime as rehabilition dues.
“There is nothing in the mining act that provides for this. Royalties, permitting fees and the likes are allowed but nothing like this. Mining companies are required to allot a percentage of their investment for the rehabilitation of mined areas, this is what they use to reconstruct the land and provide alternative livelihood for the host community,” Alcantara said.
On the Dizon Mine case, engineer Leo Jasareno, Lopez’s trusted and private Senior DENR Consultant, who was MGB Director before, had full knowledge of the fact that Benguet is not the responsible party for the rehabilitation of Dizon Mine. A simple due diligence, and verification of the facts beforehand would have shown that her tirade should have been directed at DCSMI which is the Claim Owner of the project under its Mining Lease Contracts. Benguet was the Operator but DCSMI subsequently in 1997, or more than 20 years ago, took over the control and management of Dizon Mine as well as the full responsibility for its continued operation, maintenance and rehabilitation.
When Benguet transferred back its operating rights to DCSMI, the mine was still operating and had plans for development of additional orebody. Further, all environmental infrastructures were in place—the waste dump, tailings storage facility and silt dams were well maintained and in good condition, notwithstanding the fact that in 1991, the mine was severely affected by the eruption of nearby Mt. Pinatubo.
By reason of his official position before, engineer Jasareno had access to the following correct information regarding the Dizon Mine and should have properly advised Secretary Lopez of the truth and the facts, which show that Benguet operated the Dizon Copper Property from 1975 to 1997 by virtue of an operating agreement with DCSMI. In 1997, DCSMI opted to buy out Benguet’s remaining interest in the project. Benguet and DCSMI executed a Memorandum of Agreement and Deed of Assignment on Dec. 12, 1997, under which Benguet transferred its operating rights and turned over all responsibilities in the mine to DCSMI. The agreements were registered in the Mines Recorder Office on Sept. 3, 2002 and duly approved by then DENR Secretary Heherson Alvarez on December 11, 2002. When DCSMI took over the project in 1997, it was still a viable and operating mine and there was no declaration of end-of-mine life. Mine rehabilitation or decommissioning was not yet required. DCSMI had planned to continue operating the mine. The validity of the MOA and DOA on the transfer of rights and responsibilities in the Dizon project was confirmed by the Court of Appeals in its decision dated Feb. 15, 2006 in CA-GR SP No. 87738 and upheld by the Supreme Court in a resolution dated August 28, 2006 in GR No. 173131 in a case involving the issue of which company has liability to maintain the Dizon mine.
Benguet said it is “unfortunate and regrettable that inaccurate and misleading statements continue to be made not only about Benguet but even of other mines. The company said it hopes that Secretary Lopez will correct the untruthful statements she has made on this matter. With Rio N. Araja