Church official hits looming Semirara coal mine reopening

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Semirara mining (R. Lagarde/CBCP News)

MANILA, Aug. 19, 2015— A church official in Antique criticized the government’s decision to allow the resumption of open pit coal mine operations on Semirara Island.

Fr. Edione Febrero said it was too fast for the government to lift the suspension order it issued against the Semirara Mining and Power Corp. after last month’s fatal mine accident.

“The process was just too fast. We want to know why they immediately lifted the suspension order,” said Febrero, head of Antique’s diocesan social action center.

The Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) suspended operations at the mine after the Panian pit collapsed and killed nine workers on July 17.

But in less than a month, the DENR and restored the mining firm’s environmental compliance certificate for its Panian mine expansion project on Aug. 10.

The DENR said the incident has no adverse effect or damage to the environment anyway.

While the DOE has yet to lift its own suspension order, the agency said it may base its decision on the DENR ruling.

The Panian mine site is the biggest open-pit coal mine in the Philippines.

Transparency, accountability

A group of climate justice advocates also denounced the DENR decision, saying it is unacceptable to have come from an agency which is mandated by law to ensure proper use of natural resources.

“Even if the mining operations in Semirara are still under suspension by the Department of Energy (DOE), the decision of the DENR clearly reflects the administration’s attitude of complacency and neglect of human rights violations,” said Glenn Ymata, Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ) energy program director.

“While the DENR concludes that the recent landslide in Panian Mine was a ‘fortuitous’ event, a bigger picture exists,” Ymata said. “The environmental impacts of mining in Semirara have been felt for years.”

These include loss of vast mangrove forests brought by clearing, land reclamation, and infill dumping, toxic contaminants buildup in surrounding waters, increased particulate matter in the waters and air, coral destruction, and air and water pollution, he said.

Meanwhile, Sanlakas Secretary General Atty. Aaron Pedrosa calls for DENR’s transparency and accountability, particularly in their investigations into the mining incidents in 2013 and 2015.

“The DENR and the present administration must be held accountable for the environmental impacts of mining in Semirara,” he said. “They must release the results of the 2013 investigation and involve more civil society groups and people’s organizations in the current investigations.”

More mining applications

While the province has more pending mining applications, the priest fears that the government may also approve them anytime soon.

“If they were able to decide on the incident that fast, then we are also alarmed that the government will allow more mining operations in our province soon,” Febrero said.

Antique has copper, gold, chromite, pyrite, iron, manganese and ferro alloy and limestone deposits.

Antique’s social action center was earlier joined by Caritas Philippines in calling for the permanent closure of the coal mining after another major accident in two years.

Deeply pained over the loss of lives, the groups said they do not want another accident to happen and asked the government to ban all forms of mining in the region.

In February 2013, the DOE also suspended the SMPC’s operation after a mining accident that claimed five lives but was given a go-signal to resume operations two months later.

World Day of Prayer for the environment

The priest also said they are mobilizing parishioners for the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation on Sept. 1 as declared by Pope Francis.

Febrero said it will be a solemn assembly of students, lay people, clergy, the religious, and various civil society organizations in the province’s capital town of San Jose.

“This is also our way of calling on the government to protect our province’s remaining resources,” he said. (R. Lagarde with reports from Oliver Samson/CBCPNews)

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