The Supreme Court on Tuesday granted a temporary environmental protection order (TEPO) requested by 10 Zambales residents who sought a stop to the issuance and use of small-scale mining permits in their area by Zambales Gov. Hermogenes Ebdane and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te said the high court also referred the petition of the 10 Masinloc, Zambales, residents for continuing mandamus to the Court of Appeals.
The 10 Masinloc residents had filed a 35-page petition last July 17, asking the high court to issue an environmental protection order “in the nature of a continuing mandamus, with a prayer for a temporary environmental protection order.”
The petitioners took to court the DENR, Ebdane, Zambales province, Mines and Geosciences Bureau, Provincial Mining Regulatory Board (PMRB), Philippine National Police, Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and Environment Secretary Ramon Paje, as well as Camilo Esico, who has a small-scale mining permit (SSMP) in 2010 effective for two years and another SSMP in 2012, which is good until 2014.
The petitioners were Masinloc residents Robert Escobar, Anthony Fernandez, Geregorio Saga-oc, Noel Tabudlo, Rogelio Castillo Sr., Audy Panganiban, Manuel Mantolino, Melvin Orias, Robert Conejos and Mario Diaz Jr.
In their petition, they said Ebdane granted Esico permits in an area that was not declared and delineated as a People’s Small-Scale Mining Area (PSSMA).
Aside from Esico, Ebdane had issued 93 other SSMPs in just one day on July 12, 2011.
Ebdane invoked Presidential Decree No. 1899 in issuing the permits but the petitioners said PD 1899 has been repealed by the People’s Small-Scale Mining Act of 1991 (Republic Act No. 7076).
According to the law, small-scale mining operations should be allowed only within the declared PSSMA or Minahang Bayan. The law repealed PD 1899 which was issued in January 1984.
“Notwithstanding the repeal of PD 1899 by RA 7076, the public respondents—especially respondents Ebdane, PMRB, DENR and the DENR secretary—continue to apply PD 1899 by issuing or allowing the issuance of small-scale mining permits pursuant to the provisions of the said repealed law,” the petitioners said.
But they said the DENR issued a memorandum circular wherein it declared that both PD 1899 and RA 7076 are “valid and subsisting side by side.”
“Without any authority whatsoever, respondent DENR harmonized both laws by mandating that RA 7076 governs small-scale mining in areas declared as PSSMAs, while PD 1899 governs small-scale mining in areas not declared as PSSMAs,” they said.
The petitioners said the DENR then allowed small-scale mining in areas outside of PSSMAs when the “clear mandate of Congress when it enacted RA 7076 was to exclusively confine small-scale mining only in PSSMA-declared sites.”