Aquino memo to DENR: No new mining permits in PalawanBy TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
President Benigno Aquino has served notice to Environment Secretary Ramon Paje that no new mining applications should be approved in Palawan province, home to “world wonder” Puerto Princesa Underground River.
In an accompanying memorandum to his new order on mining, the President ordered Paje to “desist from processing mining applications” in Palawan.
This was among nine specific actions that Malacañang outlined in a memorandum for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to carry out in compliance with Executive Order No. 79. The July 6 memorandum was signed by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr.
For Palawan only
It was a surprise that Malacañang came up with a specific action for Palawan only, which was among the 78 tourism sites declared by EO 79 as “no-go” zones.
“Based on that order, there will be no more new projects that can be approved. We are ordered to stop processing new applications and contracts in Palawan,” Paje said by phone, confirming the contents of the memorandum.
Current nickel projects, however, will be allowed to continue, he said. Palawan hosts several big mining projects, including Rio Tuba, Coral Bay, Berong and Oriental Peninsula Resources.
Paje said Mr. Aquino’s specific order on Palawan was prompted by the fame gained by the Puerto Princesa Underground River as one of the world’s new seven wonders and the Department of Tourism’s plan to boost the promotion of tourism in the province.
Bias for tourism
“The government feels that the primary land use of Palawan should be tourism. We should somehow be biased for tourism because of the accolade it’s giving to the country as one of the seven wonders of the world,” the environment secretary said.
Besides, he added, Palawan should “definitely be protected and conserved for the world to see and enjoy.”
Palawan’s underground river, the Amazon rainforest, Vietnam’s Halong Bay, Argentina’s Iguazu Falls, South Korea’s Jeju Island, Indonesia’s Komodo and South Africa’s Table Mountain were named the new wonders in a poll conducted by the Swiss foundation New7Wonders.
Mining has been a touchy issue in Palawan. Environmentalist groups have tangled with the DENR and mining companies over the operation of large-scale mining in the province. Paje has rebuffed calls to cancel active mining projects.
In the memorandum, the President directed Paje to enhance the strict implementation and periodic review of the Environmental Strategic Plan for Palawan ACT in coordination with the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development.
Mr. Aquino was referring to Republic Act No. 7611, which serves as a guide for mining and other industries in the province.
“One of the provisions that we’d like to implement is for companies to follow environmental standards. They should spend for environmental mitigation. We will compel them to make sure that they respect environmental laws. We must not jeopardize the environment,” Paje said.
The identification of the 78 tourism sites, farms, marine sanctuaries and island ecosystems as “mining-free” areas was among the environmentally sound provisions of EO 79, said Antonio La Viña, dean of the Ateneo School of Government.
“These are really new no-go areas. That’s an important gain,” he said by phone. “They’re not in any other law.”