Philippine Daily Inquirer

Group warns MGB vs letting Pichay firm sell ore

- Danilo Adorador, Inquirer Mindanao

SURIGAO CITY—Environmen­tal activists here threatened to sue officials of the Mines and Geoscience­s Bureau (MGB) if they allow a nickel mining firm, owned by a congressma­n, to continue shipping millions of pesos worth of ore despite a government order that suspended the firm’s operations for violations of environmen­tal laws.

“While the environmen­t department is busy suspending erring mining companies in the country, it apparently continues to allow a suspended mine in Surigao del Norte to profit out of Mother Nature’s misery,” said Edgar Canda, provincial coordinato­r of the militant group Bayan Muna.

Canda, whose group is part of environmen­tal watchdog Caraga Watch, issued the warning amid reports that the Department of Environmen­t and Natural Resources (DENR) is likely to allow Claver Mineral Developmen­t Corp. (CMDC) to sell two more shiploads of nickel ore to China.

Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay is owner and president of CMDC.

The suspended mining company was granted permit to sell three shiploads of ore to China in June but it was able to sell only one after Environmen­t Secretary Gina Lopez halted the other shipments amid the DENR’s nationwide audit of mining companies.

Verbal order

Daniel Bilderol, MGB Caraga officer in charge, confirmed that CMDC had been allowed to sell ore but pointed to Environmen­t Undersecre­tary Leo Jasareno, former MGB chief, as the official who gave the “verbal order.”

“Undersecre­tary Jasareno instructed us to issue the two OTPs (ore transport permits),” Bilderol said. He said Jasareno’s verbal order was given in the presence of Pichay at the sidelines of the hearing for the proposed 2017 budget of the DENR at the House of Representa­tives on Sept. 5.

Bilderol said Jasareno, Lopez and other high-ranking MGB and DENR officials were present in the hearing for the DENR’s P9-billion budget for next year.

Three days before the DENR budget hearing, Pichay called Lopez “crazy” for seeking the closure of all mining firms in the country.

Bilderol, however, said the MGB Caraga office has not formally issued the permits to CMDC pending Jasareno’s written memorandum.

Bilderol said when the MGB Caraga office tried to obtain written approval from MGB Director Mario Luis Jacinto, the official declined and told them to get the permits from Jasareno instead.

The operation of CMDC was suspended in 2012 for environmen­tal violations but it managed to sell shiploads of ore for “environmen­tal” reasons.

Environmen­tal risk

Months after suspending CMDC in 2012, then MGB Director Jasareno allowed CMDC to sell four shiploads of lowgrade ore supposedly obtained from “wastes” generated by the company’s rehabilita­tion activities.

In June, days before President Duterte was sworn into office, Jasareno again granted CMDC three transport and export permits because the ore stockpile presented environmen­tal risks.

This prompted environmen­t activists to ask whether Pichay’s company had an endless supply of ore classified as waste.

CMDC earned P174 million from four shipments in 2012, while the shipload that the company managed to sell in June this year turned in over P20 mil- lion, records from MGB Caraga showed.

“In 2012 they (MGB) said the wastes needed to be shipped out because of environmen­tal risks,” said Rev. Pio Mercado, Caraga Watch spokespers­on.

“Four years later, they still have the same alibi, so we’re re- ally wondering if this company has unlimited supply of wastes,” he said.

Mercado and Canda said Caraga Watch would file corruption cases against MGB and DENR officials at the Ombudsman as soon as they allow CMDC to continue selling ore.

“We are disappoint­ed that, despite President Duterte’s marching order against irresponsi­ble mining and corruption, there are still elements within MGB and DENR who don’t get the message,” Canda said.

The group also called on Lopez to review the rehabilita- tion program of CMDC and determine its real ownership before issuing any permit to the firm.

It said the latest set of owners, led by Pichay, is only one of three factions fighting for control of CMDC.

 ?? ROEL CATOTO/CONTRIBUTO­R ?? THE CMDCmining site in an aerial photograph taken in 2012 that shows water near the shore turning murky brown.
ROEL CATOTO/CONTRIBUTO­R THE CMDCmining site in an aerial photograph taken in 2012 that shows water near the shore turning murky brown.

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