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MINE CLOSURE

Lopez: Sorry about the suicide, but don’t blame me

/ 12:58 AM February 18, 2017

Environment Secretary Gina Lopez felt sorry for the reported suicide in Zambales that was blamed on the closure of a mine but said the tragedy did not outweigh the suffering that mining brings to thousands of Filipinos.

For this reason, Lopez said in a video message late on Thursday she wanted a “green economy” to replace mining that would be funded by as much as P50 billion yearly.

“I am sorry that the suicide happened (but it) didn’t happen because I closed it (the mine),” Lopez said, noting that the suicide happened in September, before she had taken action against mining operations this month.

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Winston Ordoñez of Santa Cruz town hanged himself when he did not get a callback from nickel producer Eramen Minerals Inc.. Eramen had been idle for over two and a half years after it was suspended. On Feb. 2, Lopez decided to cancel its contract.

“There are thousands of people that have suffered, and yet there are some people that benefit,” Lopez said on Thursday. “But is it correct that a few people benefit and many more suffer? I think that’s wrong.”

She said around 15,000 people were suffering from the effects of mining on Dinagat Islands and 2,500 in Zambales, where seven people died last year from floods traced to mines.

Lopez said she would use about P3 billion in rehabilitation funds for the mines she had ordered closed in northeastern Mindanao.

She referred to the P2 billion that President Duterte had supposedly promised for those displaced by mine closures in Surigao del Norte, but which presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said was actually aid for the victims of the recent earthquake that struck the area.

Lopez said the UN Green Climate Fund would give the country $300,000 in assistance this year.

Lopez said that a “green economy” could create more jobs than mining. The sustainable integrated area development approach would provide livelihood to affected communities while they are taught conservation, she said.

She said another source of livelihood is the production of biochar – a type of environment-friendly charcoal – and reforestation under the Enhanced National Greening Program to expand bamboo and mangrove plantations, part of efforts to fight climate change and poverty.

Lopez also said mining areas have huge potential for ecotourism. But Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III believes it is not a viable alternative to mining due to the country’s lack of infrastructure. Dominguez is cochair of the Mining Industry Coordinating Council.

The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines had warned that mine closures would affect at least 1.2 million who directly and indirectly rely on mining.

Lopez has been receiving support from antimining and environmental groups.

Fernando Hicap, chair of the fisherfolks’ organization Pamalakaya, said his group will always support Lopez “as long as she will remain stiff and rigid on her antimining position.” —WITH A REPORT FROM JAYMEE T. GAMIL

TAGS: Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, closure of mining firms, Enhanced National Greening Program, Eramen Minerals Inc., Fernando Hicap, Gina Lopez, green economy, miner's suicide, Pamalakaya, Philippine mining, Winston Ordoñez
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