Mining company gets gov’t nod to resume Palawan operation
PUERTO PRINCESA CITY—Antimining advocates here suffered a setback after the controversial mining firm in Brooke’s Point town in southern Palawan was granted a strategic environmental plan (SEP) clearance to resume operations.
The Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD), a government environmental agency mandated to protect the natural resources of the province, on Thursday overturned itself and granted the SEP clearance, a necessary requirement for all environment-related undertakings in the province, to the Ipilan Nickel Corp. (INC).The decision was a reversal from the council’s earlier rejection of INC’s application in Brooke’s Point, saying that granting the SEP now was in line with Malacañang’s latest policy pronouncements to favor mining projects.
Lawyer Teodoro Jose Matta, executive director of PCSD, said in a phone interview on Friday that the national government has reiterated its earlier order to allow mining operations to resume in an effort to revive the economy crippled by the coronavirus pandemic.
“The policy direction of the national government is to open up (mining) kasi wala na raw pera (because we no longer have money). Mining is one of the industries that actually made money this year and last year, so the national government is really, really promoting the industry,” Matta said.
Eriberto Saños, Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office chief, confirmed that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources had also reinstated INC’s environmental compliance certificate and mineral production sharing agreement from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau.
INC is a subsidiary of Global Ferronickel Holdings, the country’s second-largest nickel producer. Its Palawan mine site of around 2,800 hectares that encompassed four villages in Brooke’s Point, is projected to annually produce 1.538 million wet metric tons of nickel.
PCSD, during its board meeting on Thursday, also approved the expansion of three other mining companies in southern Palawan, including Berong Nickel Corp. in Quezon, Rio Tuba Nickel in Bataraza, and Citinickel Mines and Development Corp. in Narra.
The PCSD turnaround was the latest setback suffered by antimining advocates campaigning against the project in Brooke’s Point led by the town’s suspended mayor, Mary Jean Feliciano.
Feliciano was suspended for a year without pay in late July by the Ombudsman for “grave abuse of authority” on account of a complaint filed against her by INC when, as town mayor in 2018, she led the demolition of company structures after its mining claims lapsed and the company was facing charges for illegal cutting of trees.
Feliciano said she was “very disappointed” by PCSD’s decision.
She said it was sad that ordinary people who would cut even a single tree without a permit were charged and penalized while wealthy corporations involved in mass cutting of trees were “feared.”
INC has yet to issue a statement about the latest PCSD action.
“The company has yet to receive any official notice about the matter so we cannot issue any statements as of now,” the company stated in its email reply to the Inquirer.
‘Approval in principle’
Dispelling criticisms against PCSD for changing its stance on the mining project, Matta qualified the council’s decision as an “approval in principle,” pointing out that its SEP clearance was not automatically granted.
He explained that the actual SEP clearance will be issued only upon compliance by the company of certain conditions, including securing a mayor’s permit and a validation by the PCSD staff that the mining operations will not conflict with the “environmentally critical areas network” (Ecan) zoning classification of the municipality.
He also said that their earlier decision denying the company’s SEP clearance application was made “without due process.”
“The 2017 order (of the) PCSD canceling (the SEP was without) due process. Unilaterally, (it was canceled) as a matter of policy. The proposal was to reinstate the SEP clearance, provided that we will not issue it unless certain conditions are met. So, in principle lang ang approval ng SEP clearance,” Matta said.
In July 2017, PCSD revoked INC’s SEP clearance on the grounds that it was not in accordance to the Ecan map approved in 2006. However, Matta said there was an expansion in Ecan zoning that was approved in 2018 by the Ecan board, which is composed of PCSD, other government agencies and nongovernment orgnizations.
Acting mayor of Brooke’s Point Georjalyn Joy Quiachon-Abarca, who succeeded Feliciano, did not reply when asked if her office would issue a mayor’s permit.
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