BAGUIO CITY, Philippines—Government foresters said gold producer Philex Mining Corp. is criminally liable for building a road through a Benguet watershed without securing proper clearances like an environmental compliance certificate (ECC).
Edgardo Flor, city environment and natural resources officer (CENRO), on Wednesday said Philex violated the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992 (the Nipas Act or Republic Act 7586), the Revised Forestry Code of the Philippines (Presidential Decree 705) and President Aquino’s Executive Order 23, which imposed a national log ban.
A forest management team, on its second inspection of the Lower Agno Forest Watershed Reserve last week, said Philex destroyed 4.39 kilometers of woodland, including areas contracted for the government’s national greening program, to build a 6-meter-wide road to its new waste facility at Sitio (settlement) Banao in Barangay (village) Ampucao in Itogon, Benguet.
The new tailings pond replaces Philex’s Padcal mine tailings pond Number 3, which spilled waste in 2012, for which the company paid more than P1 billion in fines on Monday.
Flor ordered Philex to stop the road project on Feb. 11, citing the foresters’ Jan. 28 report that said that “in the course of bulldozing the access road, numerous Benguet pine and gmelina trees were uprooted [and] some trees were left barely hanging [by their] secondary roots.”
The forest violations may cost Philex P1 million in fines, as well as criminal charges for destroying a forest, according to a Feb. 19 report filed by seven foresters.
The report said the team failed to conduct an inventory of all trees that appeared to have been bulldozed in clearing operations.
It said the total value of the damaged trees and saplings reached P165,386.70. The value may reach P1.6 million when it is multiplied by 10 to cover moral and exemplary damages, as prescribed by a Department of Environment and Natural Resources order.
Lawyer Eduardo Aratas, Philex legal officer for its Padcal mine operations, said the company did nothing wrong when it proceeded to build the road.
He also said that the DENR was supposed to present its findings to Philex in a technical meeting.
In a Feb. 11 letter to the DENR, Libby Ricafort, Philex vice president for operations, said the area where they built a road has been hosting Philex’s reforestation projects. The road traverses a lot being leased by the company, according to Ricafort.
The foresters said Philex was still required to secure tree-cutting permits if the road stood on private property. “The harvesting and utilization of trees” are still subject to EO 23, even if these trees stand on Philex’s reforestation area, according to the foresters.
They said the road passed through the Lower Agno Reserve, an environmentally critical area.