Eco-activists slam 3 mining firms tied to LP for over-extraction of nickel
SURIGAO CITY, Philippines—Environmental advocates marked the 20th anniversary of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 Tuesday with a protest, even as they accused Malacañang of shielding mining firms with close ties to the Liberal Party (LP).
Hundreds of protesters belonging to the environment advocacy group, Caraga Watch, descended on the regional office of the Mines and Geosciences (MGB) here, calling on Congress to scrap the current law that has been governing mining operations in the country.
While accusing MGB and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) of failing their mandate to protect the environment, Caraga Watch blamed the Mining Act of 1995 for a creating an “imbalanced system” that favored large-scale mining interests.
“The Philippine Mining Act of 1995 has become a tool for the dynastic political class to perpetuate their hold on power, using the law to protect their favored mining companies,” said Rev. Peter Vargas of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines.
Vargas, a Caraga Watch coconvenor, cited the plunder case against SR Metals Inc. (SRMI), San R Mining and Galeo Equipment and Mining—the corporate trio behind the controversial nickel mines in the coastal town of Tubay, Agusan del Norte.
In 2006—then jointly operating as small-scale mine —the three mining companies were ordered closed after government regulators found they had exceeded their allowed combined annual output of 150,000 metric tons (MT) of ore. Supreme Court records show that in less than a year of operation, the trio had already extracted over 177,000 MT of nickel ore.
“Nothing has been done about the injustices and abuses committed by these mining companies. Is it because their owners are closely affiliated with the Liberal Party?” Vargas said. He noted that at the time the plunder complaint was filed against the mining firms in 2007, Caloocan City Rep. Edgar Erice, an LP stalwart, was listed as its president.
The other owners of SRMI, Miguel Alberto Gutierrez and Eric Gutierrez, are said to be close political supporters of both President Benigno Aquino III and Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Mar Roxas. The Gutierrezes were identified in media reports as the owner of the helicopter that was used to make an aerial video footage of the so-called Hacienda Binay in Rosario, Batangas, which President Aquino’s allies claimed has been among the hidden wealth and assets of Vice President Jejomar Binay, rival of Roxas to the presidency in 2016.
Rev. Pio Moreno, another Caraga Watch coconvenor, has expressed their group’s willingness to intervene in the SRMI case, following the recent Supreme Court ruling that jolted to life the years-long case against SRMI, San R Mining and Galeo.
They challenged DENR’s interpretation of the 50,000-MT limit before the Court of Appeals (CA) in 2007, but lost. It elevated the case to the high court, which recently issued a decision finding that indeed, SRMI and its partner companies were guilty of excessive extraction of minerals.
“With the 50,000-MT (metric ton) limit likewise imposed on small-scale miners under R.A. 7076, the issue raised on the violation of the equal protection clause is moot. The fact is, the DENR treats all small-scale miners equally as the production limit applies to all of them,” the high court said in a ruling promulgated June last year but only released on December.
“There is therefore no more reason for the mining corporations to not recognize and comply with the said limitation,” it added.
Telephone directories listed on SRMI’s website turned out to be wrong numbers when the Philippine Daily Inquirer tried to call for a comment.
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