MANILA -- Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Regina Paz Lopez has ordered the Hinatuan Mining Corp. (HMC), an affiliate of Nickel Asia Corp. (NAC), to stop the removal and loading of the mining wastes from Manicani mine in Guian, Eastern Samar to prevent further environmental degradation as a result of excessive soil extraction.
Manicani Island is a part of the Guiuan Bay Protected Landscape and Seascape under Presidential Proclamation No. 469. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) granted a license to HMC to mine nickel in the island, but ordered it to stop operations in 2011 due to environmental concerns.
In 2014, Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) Regional Director Leo Jasareno wrote a letter to NAC chairman Manuel Zamora, allowing the HMC to dispose of the nickel ore stockpile in Manicani Island "in order to mitigate risks."
According to MGB, the presence of such a stockpile carries the risk of polluting surrounding waters, especially when there are heavy rains that can wash away the minerals into the sea.
In May 2016, after obtaining a Mineral Ore Transport Permit (MOEP) from MGB Region 8 Office, HMC resumed with the removal of the mining waste and loading these into a waiting barge for transporting out of the mine site. The process was expected to be completed this year depending on the weather condition.
Lopez, however, said that an audit of the mine showed that it would be more detrimental to the island’s environment if the mining waste removal continued.
"Our audit shows that they are taking too much soil, which goes to China. We are suspending the retrieving of the stockpiles, to address the ecological balance," said Lopez at the sidelines of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines general membership meeting in Makati City on Wednesday.
Instead of shipping the ore to China, the DENR chief said she would order HMC to use the nickel ore for mine restoration and conduct the necessary remedial measures to prevent the nickel ore stockpiles from siltating and polluting the water bodies in the Island.
So far, HMC has made eight shipments, or about 400,000 metric tons (MT) of nickel ore retrieved from Manicani. It was estimated that about two million MT of nickel ore were left when the mine was suspended.
Meanwhile, NAC officials had a "cordial and productive" meeting with Lopez Wednesday to discuss mining issues.
According to NAC, the DENR Secretary stressed that she was "not against mining."
On the Manicani issue, the mining firm said some 495 residents are at risk of losing their jobs if the disposition of stockpile is stopped.
NAC told Lopez that "the removal of the stockpiles is the right thing to do from an environmental perspective, as it will do away with any potential environmental impacts that such stockpiles might pose, while at the same time providing badly needed employment and tax revenues."
"We have not received any order from the DENR-MGB to cease the removal of the stockpiles," it stressed.
"It should be noted that Manicani was the first landfall of super typhoon 'Yolanda' on November 8, 2013, which devastated the island and caused considerable hardships to its 2,500 residents.
Hinatuan Mining and its parent company, Nickel Asia, spent over Php80 million in calamity support, including a cash-for-work program amounting to Php25 million and the rebuilding of 500 homes, water facilities, and damaged schools and churches,” it added.
They also invited the DENR chief to visit Rio Tuba mine in southern Palawan, which was the recipient of the Presidential Mineral Industry Environmental Award given last year during the 62nd Annual National Mine Safety and Environment Conference, and which has obtained its ISO 14001 Certification. (PNA)