Government issues new mining rules: It’s a high-wire actBy DJ Yap
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on Tuesday issued the implementing guidelines of President Benigno Aquino’s new mining policy, which, it said, tilted more toward preserving the environment than earning government revenues from metals and minerals.
“It’s a tight-wire act, a balancing of different interests,” Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said of the implementing rules and regulations (IRRs) that fleshed out Executive Order No. 79, the centerpiece of the government’s mining reforms program.
At a press briefing in Quezon City, Paje described the guidelines as “very balanced,” saying these were crafted from inputs from the mining industry, civil society, environment groups and local governments.
“All stakeholders were factored in,” he said.
But the environment chief made it clear that the mining policy is intentionally biased for protecting the environment when choosing between it and earning huge mining revenues.
“If it’s a question of choosing between the environment and the value of copper and gold, the choice of government is very clear. We have to protect the environment,” Paje said.
‘No-go’ mining zones
EO 79 expands the “no-go” mining zones in the country to include 78 tourism sites, farms, marine sanctuaries and island ecosystems in response to public clamor to shield the environment from mining interests. Previously, only protected areas were no-go zones.
This provision was further made clear under the guidelines. “All pending mining applications situated within any of the areas closed to mining shall be deemed denied upon effectivity of the EO,” according to the IRRs.
“This means they no longer have any chance of being approved,” Paje said.
The same order imposes a moratorium on the grant of new mining agreements “until Congress shall have come up with a revenue-sharing scheme between the government and mining firms.”
The IRRs stipulate that “mining rights shall be granted only to those able to strictly comply with environmental management record, among other requirements, pursuant to the applicable provision of Republic Act No. 7942,” or the Mining Act of 1995.
One provision states that all mining applicants with a record of environmental incidents, such as destructive tailings spills and failed to remedy them satisfactorily as per government regulations, “shall be permanently disqualified” from acquiring mining rights and operating mining projects.
Under the guidelines, small-scale miners are only allowed to operate in sites identified as “Minahang Bayan” and they may extract only gold, silver and chromite.
To curb the rampant smuggling of gold, the sale of the precious metal shall be allowed only to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and its accredited buyers, according to the IRRs.
EO 79 also seeks consistency between local ordinances, the Constitution and national laws.
Expounding on this point, Paje said the Mining Industry Coordinating Council would defer to the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) in harmonizing local ordinances and national laws.
“They (DILG) have to encourage LGUs to review their ordinances and somehow be accountable for what they pass. There is a procedure to invalidate illegal issuances, but until such time that the procedure has been followed, we will still respect their issuances,” he said.
“No LGU is authorized to violate national laws, so they have to be accountable,” Paje said. “For example, can LGUs pass legislation saying abortion is already allowed? Of course it’s contrary to national law,” he said.
But at the same time, he pointed out that under RA 7160, or the Local Government Code, “if you are going to interpret, it should always be interpreted in favor of local autonomy.”
“That is why we feel that and we believe that until a particular ordinance is rendered invalid through a certain procedure, we will respect the ordinance,” Paje said.
A classic example is a South Cotabato ordinance banning open-pit mining, which, according to the secretary, runs counter to the government’s mining policy.
“Until such time that the environmental code of South Cotabato is rendered invalid, or a portion thereof, we recognize that the ordinance issued by South Cotabato is considered valid,” Paje said.