DOF insists on P50M budget for review of mining contracts
Despite Environment Secretary Regina Paz Lopez’s opposition to budgetary support for the planned three-month review of the contracts covering the mines she had ordered closed down or suspended, the Department of Finance (DOF) on Thursday maintained that the interagency Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) needs P50 million to undertake the review not only mandated by law but also ordered by President Rodrigo Duterte himself.
“Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Lopez was present at the first MICC meeting held on Feb. 9, in which she signed with her council co-chairperson, DOF Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III, this MICC resolution that her personal lawyer, Christian Monsod, had helped draft in that same gathering,” DOF spokesperson Paola Alvarez said in a statement.
Alvarez was referring to Resolution No. 6, which called for the establishment of a multi-stakeholder review of the DENR’s orders to shut down or suspend 28 mines in 10 provinces, as mandated under Executive Order (EO) No. 79.
Alvarez said that during subsequent MICC meetings, officials resolved the need for a P50-million budget from the Department of Budget and Management to undertake the review.
The budget will be spent on hiring independent experts who will undertake the review not only of the 28 mining operations affected by the DENR audit but also all the 311 mining contracts entered into by the government, as mandated under EO 79.
“Hence, we at the DOF are rather perplexed as to why the good [DENR] Secretary would seemingly want to throw a monkey wrench into the MICC-approved review of all mining operations by opposing the budgetary support when, first, such a reassessment was ordered by President Duterte no less during the Cabinet meeting last Feb. 7, and, second, she herself formally approved such an MICC review by signing MICC Resolution No. 6 during the council’s meeting on Feb. 9,” Alvarez said.
“Lopez had likewise green-lighted this request [for budgetary support] to the DBM during the follow-up MICC meeting last February 20, as the council would need to hire a sufficient number of private experts from different fields to review the technical, legal, social, environmental and economic aspects of all 311 mining contracts in the country,” Alvarez added.
As for Lopez’s pronouncement that she was “worried” about Finance Undersecretary Bayani Agabin co-chairing the MICC in Dominguez’s absence as Agabin was a former lawyer who had represented mining firms, Alvarez said: “Secretary Lopez is free to make such an appeal, in the same manner that certain groups are free to oppose her confirmation by the Commission on Appointments on a conflict-of-interest issue and other grounds.”
Alvarez nonetheless said that “Agabin had already pointed out that his professional engagement with the Philippine Associated Smelting and Refining Corp. (Pasar) ended 15 years ago and with Rapu Rapu Minerals Inc. 10 years ago.”
“Perhaps, it is the DENR secretary who needs to recuse herself from the MICC process, given that she has publicly stated that she would stick to the findings of the DENR’s audit report regardless of the outcome of the MICC review ordered by the President,” according to Alvarez.
“The DOF cannot be excluded from this [MICC review] process, as it does not of itself face any conflict of interest, without violating its mandate under EO 79,” Alvarez added.
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