‘Special treatment’ of Pichay firm hit
SURIGAO CITY—Environmental advocates here have denounced the special treatment allegedly accorded to a mining firm owned by a controversial lawmaker and which had been penalized for environmental violations but allowed to transport nickel ore.
Claver Mineral Development Corp. (CMDC), in Claver town, Surigao del Norte province, has been stopped from operating since 2012 because of environmental violations. The company’s nickel mine changed hands several times in an intracorporate dispute, and recently fell under the control of Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay.
Court and Securities and Exchange Commission documents showed that late last year, Pichay bought shares from one of the factions vying to control CMDC. Pichay’s group sued and eventually took possession of the mine in February following a court order that expelled the previous claimant.
Rev. Pio Mercado, spokesperson of the environmental watchdog Caraga Watch, said the timing of the approval by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of CMDC’s bid to transport nickel ore was “highly irregular” since it came just as Pichay came into the picture.
“This mining company (CMDC) has been suspended for years because of destroying the environment and suddenly, Congressman Pichay comes in and made money overnight,” Mercado said during a press conference. “Is this sheer coincidence, or did something miraculous happen here that we know nothing about?”
Caraga Watch said commercial activities within CMDC should have resumed only after suspension had been lifted, and the mine area fully rehabilitated.
“The CMDC mine site right now is a scene of complete devastation and environmental catastrophe. It’s as if Mother Nature is being raped and cut into thousand pieces,” said Rev. Lino Magsanoc of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, a Caraga Watch co-convenor.
In an environmental summit in Davao City last month, Environment Secretary Gina Lopez reiterated CMDC’s suspension, saying the company has failed the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ ongoing nationwide audit of large-scale mines.
MGB granted CMDC transport and export permits to sell three shiploads of ore but the firm was able to ship only one because of unexpected delays, said MGB-Caraga officer-in-charge Alilo Ensomo Jr. The company earned an estimated net P12 million from that shipment, Ensomo told the Inquirer.
Because ore transport and export permits are valid for only 15 days, Ensomo said CMDC has requested for extensions and that these are currently being considered by the MGB central office.
Mercado warned that his group would initiate legal action against Pichay and MGB officials if CMDC is allowed to ship more ore from its suspended mine. The pro-environment group also asked Lopez to investigate CMDC and MGB officials for possible irregularity.
“That one shipment is already anomalous and they still want more?” he said, accusing MGB officials of bending the rules to hand CMDC “special favors” and calling Pichay a “bureaucrat capitalist.”
“Congressman Pichay is the classic bureaucrat capitalist: one who masters the art of using a corrupt bureaucracy for his own gain,” Mercado added.
Reached for comment, Pichay decried the label, saying CMDC has followed “all legal requirements” to obtain the necessary permits. He said the company also conducted environmental rehabilitation of the area.
“I will be the first to stop any mining activity within CMDC if it is found to be irresponsible. I fully support President Duterte’s crackdown against destructive mining practices,” the lawmaker told the Inquirer by phone.
Ensomo disclosed that the agency’s regional office issued CMDC’s ore transport and export permits at the behest of then MGB director Leo Jasareno, who is now a DENR undersecretary.
He also defended MGB’s decision to grant the permits, saying this was done following an on-site review that determined the ore posed environmental risks if steps were not taken to have it removed.
Mercado found this justification absurd, pointing out that “the ore stockpiles have been lying there all those years. How could they suddenly find a comfortable reason to declare it a danger for environment?”
Pichay, who ran a costly but unsuccessful bid for the Senate in 2010, vowed his company would “exhaust all legal options to protect our investments.”
The Ombudsman has recently earlier ordered the filing of criminal charges against Pichay and 25 other individuals in the alleged anomalous buyout of an insolvent bank by the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) in 2009, when the lawmaker was its chair. Danilo V. Adorador III, Inquirer Mindanao
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