The multi-stakeholder Technical Working Group (TWG) of the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) is forming five technical groups that will conduct an “objective, fact-finding, science-based” review of the orders issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on the closure or suspension of 28 mine sites across the country.
Such a review will be conducted over a three-month period, beginning this March, by the five groups consisting of “technical review experts” who, for the sake of objectivity, “shall be independent and [have] no known conflict of interest” with the mining sector or any anti-mining nongovernment organization, according to the organizational framework adopted by the MICC’s TWG during its first meeting earlier this week.
Under the organizational framework, these five groups or technical review teams (TRTs) will go over the compliance of the 28 mine sites with applicable agreements, submissions, laws and regulations and impact of their operations, taking into account five aspects agreed upon during the Feb. 20 meeting of the TWG.
Each TRT shall cover these five aspects that involve the 1) technical, 2) legal, 3) social, 4) environmental, and 5) economic (including the effect on agricultural reform areas) impacts of the mining operations.
“This [review] it’s pursuant to Executive Order 79, and our thrust, and as required, every two years, the MICC should review the mining operations,” Finance Undersecretary Bayani Agabin told the media after the MICC multi-stakeholder review meeting. “The MICC is supposed to do every two years a multi-stakeholder review. So that’s what we are doing.”
He said the TRTs will begin the review by focusing on the 28 mine sites suspended or shut down by the DENR.
The DENR ordered last Feb. 2 the closure of 23 mine sites and the suspension of operations of five others across the country. A week later, it ordered the cancellation of 75 mineral production sharing agreements (MPSAs) still in the pre-operation stage that the government had forged with mining companies.
“The review shall take off or refer to the existing reports conducted by the DENR’s audit team and Technical Review Committee along with existing laws, rules and regulations,” said Agabin, who heads the Legal Affairs Group and Revenue Integrity Protection Service (RIPS) of the Department of Finance (DOF).
He said the DENR will make its audit findings available for the TRTs to review.
The five TRTs will tap the academe and will engage experts from State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) to help conduct the review, he said.
For the technical part of the review, the MICC will tap either a geologist, mining engineer or a metallurgical engineer from the private sector, while a lawyer, also from the private sector, will be hired to review the legal aspect.
A community relations officer will be involved in the social aspect, an environmental management officer will focus on the environmental impact, while representatives from the local government units, DOF, Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and other concerned government agencies will go over the economic aspect of the review.
The Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) and the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) of the DENR will also provide qualified technical personnel and provide available data and records to each TRT.
Agabin said the results of the review of the five TRTs will be submitted to the MICC’s multistakeholder TWG.
“The TWG shall then verify the technical report before the final presentation to the MICC,” he said.
The MICC will present the findings and submit its recommendations to the Office of the President, which shall make a final decision on the DENR’s closure and suspension orders, Agabin said.
Agabin said the mandate of the MICC covers all 311 mining contracts across the country, but the review will first begin with the 23 sites ordered shut down by the DENR.
“The mines [which] already received their orders shall be subjected to further review by a qualified individuals or teams designated by the MICC. The schedule of review shall be based on the date of receipt of the DENR’s order,” Agabin said.
Ocular inspections of 28 affected mine sites and meetings with indigenous groups, the local governments, farmers and fishermen will be conducted if deemed necessary by the review team, he added.
The funding for these efforts will be discussed with the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).
Besides Agabin, the MICC-TWG meeting was also attended by DENR Undersecretary Maria Paz Luna, and officials of the DENR legal service, along with representatives from the Office of the Executive Secretary, Office of the Solicitor General, the Office of the Chief Presidential Legal Counsel and the other government agencies called to the meeting.
The DENR’s closure and suspension orders will cost 17 affected cities and municipalities in 10 provinces over P821 million annually in foregone revenues, according to updated estimates submitted by the DOF-attached Bureau of Local Government Finance (BLGF) earlier this week.
The latest estimates, which is an increase from the initial P653 million submitted by the BLGF, is based on the 100 percent compliance of city and municipal treasurers to a DOF order for each of them to submit a report on the revenue impact of the DENR orders on the affected LGUs.