Monday, August 14, 2006

Two mining firms accused of illegal logging


THE ENVIRONMENTAL Legal Assistance Center (ELAC) has requested Gov. Joel Reyes to revoke the small-scale mining permits of two mining companies in Española for cutting trees in a natural forest.

The Platinum Group of Metals Corporation (PGMC) and Olympic Mines Development Corporation (OMDC) have “violated the terms and conditions of their SSMPs, the Chainsaw Act Section 13, and the People’s Small Scale Mining Act,” ELAC executive director Atty. Gerthie Mayo-Anda said in a letter to Reyes dated July 13.

ELAC seized five chainsaws allegedly owned and contracted by the two mining companies last July 12.

Reyes chairs the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board and has the power to cancel the permits.

“Hundreds of trees had been cut down, including apitong, amoguis and other naturally-grown hardwood trees,” Anda said.

Reports from the local community about the massive cutting of trees in the area prompted ELAC and the Philippine National Police to conduct the operation.

The team caught chainsaw operators in the act of cutting trees and saw the cleared area of about nine hectares, according to their sworn statement.

The ELAC learned from the operators that the PGMC owns one of the chainsaws, while the other four are owned by individuals under contract with the two companies.

The chainsaws have no permit from the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD), which handles the registration of chainsaws pursuant to the Chainsaw Act.

The team said operators told them that seven other chainsaws are being used in the area.

“Ang kabuuang gamit nilang chainsaw na kinontrata ng PGMC, kasama na ang aming mga nahuli ay 12,” the team said in their statement.

Composing the team are Efren Balladares, David Abela and Paul Bobby Dantic from ELAC and Narra Police Officer PO2 Megdonio Bascongada.

“It is very sad dahil delikado ang kalikasan,” Atty. Anda told Bandillo in an interview.

While the permits clear state that no trees should be felled, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources issued special tree cutting permits to the two companies, Anda said.

Anda said the cutting permits reveal “that a total of 4,470 trees will be cut consisting of, among others, 221 pieces of apitong, 253 pieces of premium hardwood species and 661 pieces of common hardwood trees.”

ELAC also sought assistance from Board Member Arthur Ventura, chair of the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources in the provincial board, to investigate the issue.

“We hope that your good office can expeditiously help resolve this apparent irregularity in the issuance of permits so we can save the remaining forest of Española,” Anda said.

Trouble in the Core Zone

The alleged reclassification of proposed mining areas in the Environmentally Critical Areas Network (ECAN) Map for Palawan has put PCSD’s reputation into question.

NGOs said the council is easing the core zone requirements to accommodate applications for mineral exploration in the province.

Anda said, “The area applied for is a natural forest which falls under the core zone or area of maximum protection category” under the Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) Law.

ELAC questioned the council’s issuance of SEP clearances to PGMC and OMDC despite the fact that the area is a core zone.

The issue was also the subject of Ventura’s privilege speech during the provincial board’s regular session last July 18.

The two corporations have failed to comply with Republic Act 7611 (or SEP Law), which maximizes the protection of core zone forests from human disruption, Ventura said.

Pending the investigation of the issue, Ventura called for the suspension of all cutting and mining permits of the two companies.

Meanwhile, Board Member Vicky de Guzman suggested the creation of a multi-partite monitoring team that would report developments regarding PGMC and OMDC’s mining activities.

As this developed, PCSD Staff information officer Alex Marcaida denied allegations that the agency is preparing to reclassify the ECAN Map in various municipalities that have mining applications.

Marcaida told Bandillo that each local government unit has to approve its ECAN Map first before going to the council. The map is based on the Comprehensive Water and Land Use Plan of each municipality, and the PCSD has to check its guidelines before any changes can be done, Marcaida clarified.

But in PGMC’s case, Marcaida said the cutting of trees is considered a violation because the PCSD has not given them a permit for this activity.

“Dapat kumuha sila ng separate permit for the cutting of trees,” he said, adding that the companies’ permits are only for their mining activities. Marcaida said the cutting permit from the DENR is different from the SEP clearance obtained from the PCSD.

-with reports from Jestoni Manayon


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