Mining firms: Lopez has no power to declare an area is a watershed
Mining activities are disallowed only in watersheds that are by law declared “critical,” and only the President has that power, according to the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP).
The COMP was refuting statements of Environment Secretary Regina Lopez, who earlier ordered the closure of at least 15 mines and the cancellation of 75 mineral production sharing agreements (MPSA). Lopez claimed the areas involved were in watershed areas.
Lopez had said all open-pit mining operations in the Philippines were being done in a watershed, which “should never be allowed.”
She added there should be no more mining not just in legally proclaimed watersheds, but even in “functional” watersheds.
“The environment secretary has no power to proclaim that an area is a watershed,” COMP vice president Ronald Recidoro said in an interview.
Citing the Revised Forestry Code or Presidential Decree No. 705 issued in 1975, Recidoro said section 18 stated that the President may establish forest reserves that are for preservation as critical watersheds or for any other purpose. The President can also modify the boundaries of existing forest reserves.
PD 705 defines a watershed as “a land area drained by a stream or fixed body of water and its tributaries having a common outlet for surface runoff.”
Further, the law defines “critical watershed” as a drainage area of a river system which supports existing and proposed hydro-electric power, irrigation works or domestic water facilities that need immediate protection or rehabilitation.
The River Basin Control Office, which is under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, lists 142 critical watersheds across the country.
“These are what the law says and there is nothing about ‘functional watershed,’” Recidoro said. “If (Lopez) can make her own definitions, then even her home stands in a watershed.”
The dictionary refers to a watershed as the region or area drained by a river, stream, and other bodies of water. Terms used interchangeably with watershed include “drainage basin” or “catchment.”
According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), watersheds “can be as small as a footprint or large enough to encompass all the land that drains water into rivers that drain into Chesapeake Bay, where it enters the Atlantic Ocean,” referring to a big chunk of the US East Coast.
“If you are standing on ground right now, just look down. You’re standing, and everyone is standing, in a watershed,” the USGS said in its website.
In 2009, then President Gloria Arroyo issued Presidential Proclamation No. 1747, which identified a total of 43,601 hectares in Surigao del Sur and Agusan del Norte as critical watershed forest reserves.
The proclaimed watershed areas overlap sites in the towns of Carrascal, Cantilan and Madrid towns in Surigao del Sur, where Marcventures Mining and Development Corp. (MMDC) operates a nickel mine. MMDC brought the mine into commercial operation based on an MPSA issued in 1993.
Recidoro said MMDC had been allowed to continue mining operations even with PP 1747 because the proclamation recognizes prior rights.