By force of audit | Inquirer Business

By force of audit

/ 12:07 AM September 12, 2016

WHEN, early last month, the DENR started to pounce on the mining industry, nobody really cared to protest.

Not even a single word of protest!

To start with, the new administration of the motorbike riding Duterte Harley named as the head of DENR, well, a member of the influential Lopez clan of Meralco fame, none other than Regina Paz Lopez, an avowed anti-mining advocate.


Has the new administration, by force of habit or something, really frightened the entire mining industry from the start?


Well, in his first Sona, our new President, the motorbike riding Duterte Harley, actually gave the mining sector a clear message on what to expect from the DENR under Lopez: Follow the rules strictly or else …

And who would dare contradict him?


Never mind that Duterte Harley also admitted that his choice of Lopez for the DENR post, basically, came about almost on a whim.

Anyway, the DENR already forced its audit on several mining companies and then unceremoniously closed down at least eight mining companies—just like that.

And so their executives started to whisper some mild objections to the DENR audit. They called the DENR process “unfair.”

They noted that the entire audit at times only lasted three hours. The DENR-assigned auditors did not even follow a semblance of procedure. They also kept the findings to themselves.

Enter the governor of Agusan del Norte, a woman, Maria Angelica Amante-Matba, re-elected this year, although she first became provincial governor in 1995 at the young age of 25 years, who reportedly even survived an attempt on her life last year.

She vouched openly for the “big” mines in her province, claiming that they were all doing “responsible” operations.

That, in my book, was a bold move—and it also took a woman with!

Just remember that news reports and, more importantly, some orchestrated tirades on social media already tagged Agusan del Norte a mining hotspot.

It so happened that, much earlier, Matba already pronounced that she would not even wait for Duterte Harley to rid her province of “irresponsible” mining operations, because she would do it herself.

Now, word also went around that the good-looking governor recently paid Duterte Harley a courtesy call in Malacañang, specifically to express support for his program to clean up the mining sector.

By the way, Duterte Harley won by a landslide in all the provinces in Mindanao, except three, namely, Agusan del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, and Misamis Occidental.

The governor nevertheless used a key term in her expression of support for mining in her province: International standards.

In other words, at least during her term as governor, the mines in Agusan del Norte, big or small, must comply with those strict criteria.

It so happened that the operator of one of the big mines in the province is this company called San Roque Metals, known simply as SR Metals.

It became famous as the favorite whipping boy of media on anything to do with mining, owing perhaps to its support for Mar Roxas, the defeated presidential candidate of the Liberal Party of our former leader Benigno Simeon, a.k.a. BS.

The truth all along was that SR Metals got government permits during the cute administration of Gloriaetta, such as the environmental compliance certificate, or ECC, secured in 2007, or the mineral production sharing agreement, or MPSA, obtained in 2008.

Would Matba also support SR Metals?

The province, for one, derived huge economic benefits from the operations of SR Metals, such as yearly tax payments of more than P20 million, plus the multiplier effect from some 1,700 jobs in the mines.

“If you say that mining does not contribute,” news reports quoted Matba as saying, “I do not know where it is coming from.”

According to her, SR Metals actually contributes to the people of Agusan del Norte more than just the money, saying that the company has helped more people than any other outfit in terms of housing, education and livelihood.

Believe me, the governor was speaking from the heart, because I actually went there to check.

One fine day, curiosity got the better of me, perhaps due to all the bad press thrown at SR Metals, and so I went to the province to talk to the people.

Surprise—it turned out that, for no reason at all, some LGUs there just refused to give permits for electrical connections to the housing projects of SR Metals for poor communities in the province.

People said that some influential political groups actually have been harassing SR Metal for the longest time, and the locals believed that the groups were actually out to force a takeover of the highly developed mine site.

It sounded plausible, as official records showed that SR Metals would not run out of minerals anytime soon.

Its 570-hectare mining permit in one of the richest nickel deposits on this planet contained some 30 million tons of ore reserve.

SR Metals could make money for a long long time; it would certainly invite corporate raiders.

From what I have learned, anyway, the company did not scrimp on investments in modern equipment to follow those “international standards” cited by the provincial governor, such as its brand new articulated trucks, excavators, drills, loaders and the like.

The company even bought its own fleet of barges to keep under its full control the management of marine ecology in the area, not to mention its huge filtering system for rain water that went to waterways outside its mine site.

The DENR itself recognized that the company actually did the “daily monitoring” of rainwater at four sampling stations spread around the mine.

Now, one basic requirement of the DENR on mining companies was the so-called ISO 14001 certification, given by the International Organization for Standardization to mining companies all over the world that followed the “international standards.”

Only four companies so far have that certification, and one of them is SR Metals.

By the way, the DENR itself was unable to get an ISO certification until January 2016.

Anyway, news reports said that the governor of the mineral rich Agusan del Norte also called upon the DENR to involve LGUs in its ongoing audit of mining operations.

As it stood, only representatives of the DENR, the Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, the Social Action Center and the Department of Health would make up the DENR audit team.

In some areas, according to Matba, DENR boss Gina Lopez even managed to squeeze into the audit team those anti-mining advocates from some private NGOs.

To top it all, the audit team refused to invite representatives of the main organization of the big mining companies, called the Chamber of Mines, which has been calling for “clear parameters” of the audit all along, instead of it being a running target.

Well, the DENR never really made public what kind of “standards” it would apply in the audit. Basta, be prepared for the gang rape … este, “audit.”

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That was why Matba proposed to include LGUs in the audit, because what she called “local people,” actually, would know more about the operations of the local mines, both their good and their bad practices, much more than anybody in the DENR audit team.

TAGS: Business, Duterte Administration, economy, Gina Lopez, mining, News

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