AN ENVIRONMENTAL group from the town of Sta. Cruz in Zambales recently filed a case against DENR officials, demanding the resumption of suspension orders against mining companies operating in the area.

Local people’s organization Concerned Citizens of Sta. Cruz Zambales (CCOS) is awaiting the decision of the Court of Appeals  after it filed a case of Mandamus and Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against  officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) last June 9, 2015.

The respondents of the cases are DENR Secretary Ramon Paje, MGB Director Leo Jasareno and MGB Region III acting Director Atty. Danilo Uykieng.

The cases filed against the government officials demand the resumption of suspension of LnL Archipelago Minerals, Inc. (LAMI), Eramin Minerals Inc. (EMI) and Benguet Corp Nickels Mines Inc. (BNMI) after the 90 days temporary lifting of the companies’ suspension orders.

“It has been over a month since the 90 days temporary lifting of BNMI, LAMI and EMI’s suspension orders ended and the mining companies have failed to meet their obligations, ” said Dr. Ben Molino, chairperson of CCOS.

“We see no reasons why these mining companies continue to operate in Sta. Cruz, Zambales and we don’t see any efforts from DENR and MGB to stop them. We will not sit here and watch as they continue to destroy our environment and the livelihoods of the people with impunity. We demand actions from the respective government offices right now,” he added.

In July 15, 2014, BNMI, LAMI, EMI and Zambales Diversified Metals Corp. were suspended upon the recommendation of MGB Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT) due to findings of violations to mining procedures and policies and environmental destruction.

However, in December 3, 2014, DENR Region 3 issued an ore transport permit justifying the move as a necessary step for the companies to rehabilitate and compensate the affected communities to prevent disaster while the suspension orders are still in effect.

In February 10 and 20, 2015, DENR Region III issued a temporary lifting of the suspension orders of BNMI, LAMI and EMI subject to compliance of certain conditions within 90 days.

Among the conditions are the construction of an alternative mine haulage road, resolution of the alleged coastal destruction brought about by the mining operation, full payment of claims for compensation for damages to fishponds, sediment flux monitoring to determine the effectiveness of siltation and erosion control measures, full rehabilitation of adversely affected river systems, and progressive rehabilitation of inactive mining areas.

“So far, we have seen no construction and rehabilitation of whatsoever kind. The affected communities have not yet been compensated. Our river systems are as worse as ever, nickel laterite pollution reached the sea, and yet here they are still operating,” said Molino.

Meanwhile, national environmental organization Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM), a partner and supporter of CCOS, called on DENR and MGB to “fulfil their obligations to the people of Zambales” and “implement the suspension order the soonest possible time.”

“BNMI, LAMI and EMI’s failure to meet their obligations is proof that these mining companies have no regard with their commitments to make amends for the destruction their operations have brought in Zambales, ” said Jaybee Garganera, National Coordinator of Alyansa Tigil Mina.

“Unfortunately, DENR, MGB national office and MGB Region 3 have failed to hold the companies accountable, and their inadequate action in this case proves the government offices’ inability to effectively regulate mining operation,” he added.

In a statement, Garganera asserted that the government was supposed to have already improved the governance and regulation of mining operations with Executive Order 79, but the alliance claims that enforcement of the policy has been unsatisfactory in general.

“We demand for DENR, MGB national office and MGB Region 3 to implement the suspension orders of the three mining companies and compel them to pay for the destruction their operations caused in Zambales. It is high time that they step up their game and be true to their mandate of protecting the environment.”

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