BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – Philex Mining Corp. is again being held to account, this time by government foresters, over a road that it allegedly built through a Benguet watershed without first securing the proper clearances, like an environmental compliance certificate (ECC).
A forest management team, which conducted a second inspection of the Lower Agno Forest Watershed Reserve last week, said Philex destroyed 4.39 kilometers of woodland, including areas contracted for the government’s national greening program, to build a six-meter wide road to its new waste facility in Sitio Banao in Itogon, Benguet.
The new tailings pond replaced Philex’s Padcal mine tailings pond No. 3 which was found to have spilled wastes last year and for which the company paid more than P1 billion in fines last Monday.
On February 11, Edgardo Flor, city environment and natural resources officer, ordered Philex to stop the road project, based on the foresters’ Jan. 28 report which said that “in the course of bulldozing the access road, numerous Benguet pine and gmelina trees were uprooted [and] some trees were left barely hanging [by their] secondary roots.”
Among the laws that Flor said Philex had violated were the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992 (the Nipas Act or Republic Act No. 7586), the Revised Forestry Code of the Philippines (Presidential Decree No. 705) and Executive Order No. 23 imposing a national log ban.
The latest alleged violations could cost Philex P1 million in fines, as well as criminal charges for destroying a forest, according to a Feb. 19 report filed by the seven foresters.
It said the total value of the damaged trees and saplings was P165,386.70. The value could reach P1.6 million when it is multiplied by 10 to cover moral and exemplary damages, as prescribed by a Department of Environment and Natural Resources order.
But lawyer Eduardo Aratas, Philex legal officer for its Padcal mine operations, said the company did nothing wrong when it proceeded to build the road.
He also said the DENR was supposed to present its findings to Philex in a technical meeting.
In a February 11 letter to the DENR, Libby Ricafort, Philex vice president for operations, said the area where they built the road was the site of Philex’s reforestation projects.