Green groups gear for ‘show down’ with new DENR chief

By DateLine Philippines

Environment advocates and indigenous peoples groups are gearing for a showdown with new Environment chief Horacio C. Ramos.

Ramos, formerly the national director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), was appointed last February 10 as ad interim secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

But environment advocates claimed that Ramos’s appointment would lead to the fast-tracking of multi-million mining projects that threatened the environment.

“We fear that under his administration, environmental impact assesments (EIAs) and issuance of environmental clearance certificates (ECCs) will be done in haste, undermining community and indigenous peoples’ rights and jeopardizing our environment,” said Sr. Susan O.Bolanio of SOCSKARGEN CAN (Climate Action Network).

A mining engineer by profession, Ramos began his career at the MGB in 1969, rising to occupy various posts until he became MGB’s highest official starting in 1996.

It was under Ramos’s watch that anti-mining protests peaked, sparked by the massive mine tailings spill of multinational company Placerdome (Marcopper Mining Corporation) mine in Marinduque province, that filled all 26 kilometers of the Boac river with about three million tons of metal-enriched and acid-generating tailings.

A 1996 report from the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), based on the assessment and recommendations of an investigative team that visited Marinduque island shortly after the tailings spill, said “it is evident that environmental management was not a high priority for Marcopper.” It also noted that had proper risk assessment been done on the mine pit, “it is possible the present environmental disaster would not have occurred.”

Environmental groups said that among the major projects presently undergoing EIA processes at the DENR are SMI-Xtrata’s Tampakan Copper and Gold Project (TCGP) in the tri-boundary of South Cotabato, Sarangani and Sultan Kudarat, and coal mining projects in Ned, Lake Sebu, South Cotabato.

The Regional Development Council (RDC) and Regional Mineral Develoment Council (RMDC) also declared SMI’s TCGP as the SOCSKSARGEN region’s flagship project, they added.

“We oppose these projects because they lie within watershed areas and we believe that the proponents should not be given ECCs,” Bolanio asserted.

She also questioned the ECC issued to Conal Holdings Corporation’s 200MW Coal Fired Power Plant project in the municipality of Maasim, Sarangani Province that ecologists said threatens the Sarangani Protected Seascape.

Environmental rights groups said Ramos would serve as the architect for fast-tracking the issuance of mining permits by reducing the processing time of mining applications, diluting the right to free prior and informed consent (FPIC) of communities, and processing of mining applications despite protests or opposition.

“With the appointment of Horacio Ramos as DENR secretary, the mining companies will have more say than the communities. They will definitely have more rights than the indigenous people,” said Jean Marie Ferraris of the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center-Kasama sa Kalikasan/Friends of the Earth Philippines (LRC-KsK/FoE-Phils).

LRC-KsK/FoE-Phils is a policy and legal research and advocacy institution working for the empowerment of the marginalized indigenous peoples and rural communities.

Prior to his appointment as DENR chief, Ramos had forecast that investments in the mining industry would surge this year to P1.428 billion.

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