The interagency Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) is mandated under the law to review all mining-related rules and regulations, issuances and agreements, and was ordered convened by President Duterte himself to discuss and reassess the audit done by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) that led to either the closure or suspension of operations of 28 mining sites across the country, according to a Department of Finance (DOF) official.
“The MICC is not a creation of any Department. It is mandated under Section 10 of Executive Order No. 79, which was issued by the previous administration, to conduct an assessment and review of all mining-related laws, rules and regulations, issuances and agreements,” Finance Undersecretary Bayani Agabin said.
EO 79 was issued by then-President Aquino in 2012 to institutionalize and implement reforms in the Philippine mining sector and to provide policies and guidelines to ensure environmental protection and responsible mining in the country.
Agabin recalled that during the Feb. 7 Cabinet meeting, President Duterte directed the DOF and DENR to convene the MICC on Feb. 9 and to invite the Solicitor General, the Chief Presidential Legal Counsel and the Secretary of Justice to the meeting, so that they could comprehensively discuss the results of the DENR audit and DENR Secretary Regina Lopez’s recommendation to shutter 23 mines and suspend the operations of five others.
“Hence, there was no usurpation of the DENR’s functions by the MICC because the President himself has ordered that the results of the DENR audit be discussed and reviewed, which is within the powers of the MICC,” Agabin said.
When the MICC convened its first meeting on Feb. 9, Agabin said its members reached a unanimous decision to conduct a multistakeholder review of the country’s mining operations, with the personal lawyer of DENR Secretary Lopez—Christian Monsod—even actively participating in the drafting of a resolution for this purpose.
Secretary Lopez herself was present at that Feb. 9 meeting of this interagency council in which an agreement was reached on an MICC review of the audit conducted by the DENR last year that led to Lopez’s closure and suspension orders, said Agabin.
Agabin noted that Secretary Lopez, along with DOF Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, had even signed MICC Resolution No. 6 calling for such a multistakeholder review.
The secretaries of the DENR and DOF co-chair the MICC.
Moreover, Agabin said, Lopez’s deputy, DENR Undersecretary Maria Paz Luna, who had attended the subsequent MICC and its Technical Working Group (TWG) meetings on the secretary’s behalf, had even volunteered to make available for MICC review the DENR audit report last year that served as basis for Lopez’s closure and suspension orders.
Luna is the DENR Officer-in-Charge Undersecretary for Legal Affairs.
As for the P50-million budget requested by the MICC from the Department of Budget and Management for the multistakeholder review, Agabin said “this amount is reasonable and justified, given that the task involves not only the 28 affected mines ordered either closed or suspended by Lopez, but all 311 mining contracts across the country.”
Agabin said “that among the powers and functions of the MICC is to submit a work plan for the implementation of EO 79, thus, creating the multistakeholder teams to conduct the review is within the authority of the MICC to implement this executive order.”
While Section 3 of EO 79 provides that a “multistakeholder team led by the DENR shall conduct a review of the performance of mining operations,” in the country every two years, no such review has been done since EO 79 took effect in 2012, Agabin said.
He said it was puzzling why Lopez is claiming that the MICC had no legal basis to undertake a review of mining operations—even though she herself had agreed to the multistakeholder review and signed the MICC resolution to that effect.
Agabin said that in response to President Duterte’s directive during the Feb. 7 Cabinet meeting, “the MICC determined that there was a need to conduct a comprehensive review of the mining operations given the technical nature of the DENR audit and the number of mines involved in the closure and suspension orders.”
He said the framework, process and methodology of undertaking the review was approved by the MICC’s TWG in aFeb. 20 meeting, in which “Secretary Lopez’s representative, DENR Undersecretary Luna, provided several inputs and agreed to the conduct of the review and its framework.”
“In fact, it was Undersecretary Luna who volunteered to make the audit report done by the DENR on the 28 mining operations available to the multistakeholder technical review teams, and joined the other members of the TWG in adopting the framework for the review,” Agabin said.
In the March 3 meeting of the MICC, Agabin said the framework for the review was presented to the entire MICC body, and “again Undersecretary Luna was present and even gave further inputs.”
“After discussions during the March 3 meeting, the framework was unanimously agreed upon and adopted by the MICC,” he said.
Agabin noted that during the MICC and TWG meetings, it was learned that the DENR audit was not a multistakeholder review as required under EO 79 as it was done by only four personnel from the DENR and a third party expert.
Also, none of the 20 departments and agencies represented in the MICC was consulted by the DENR, Agabin said.
“In fact, even Isabela Vice Governor Antonio Albano, representing the ULAP (Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines), disclosed during the last MICC meeting on March 3 that the LGUs (local government units) of the areas hosting the affected mines were never consulted by the DENR,” said Agabin.
He said the audit team created under DENR Memorandum Order No. 2016-01 is not a multistakeholder team as required by EO 79.
“Section 3 of that DENR memo states that its audit team was composed only of a third party expert and one officer each from the DENR Central Office, its Regional Office, Mines and Geosciences Bureau and Environmental Management Bureau,” Agabin said.