An Open Letter to DENR Secretary Jose L. Atienza
November 23, 2009
HON. JOSE L. ATIENZA
Secretary Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Secretary Jose Atienza:
It was with great joy that we ended our meeting last Wednesday, November 18, 2009, when, after finding out that the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) for the mining company, Intex Resources, in Mindoro was acquired with grave irregularity – that it was given without the required genuine consultations and endorsements of the affected local government units, as attested by the mayors of the two directly affected towns and the governors and congressmen of the two provinces of Mindoro – you promised to suspend the ECC. We admired then your sense of justice and your commitment to stand by the truth. All the hunger strikers and their supporters happily celebrated a thanksgiving mass outside the DENR compound. But alas, the rejoicing was short-lived when your order came out a couple of hours later! It was just a mere 90-day suspension order. Your letter did not reflect accurately the discussions and agreements of the meeting, among which (1) the recognition of the LGU’s moratorium on mining; (2) the failure of the Intex Resources to conduct a genuine consultation in the communities; (3) the steadfast refusal of LGUs to allow the entry of the Intex Resources in the area, and (4) the sustained rejection and withholding of consent of the legitimate indigenous people to be affected by the mining operation. We all felt betrayed. If the ECC was acquired with irregularity, why should it be just suspended for 90 days? Is it not invalid, and being so, must be revoked? Other thoughts then came to my mind. In the said dialogue, in front of two provincial governors, several mayors, congressmen, priests, two bishops, DENR officials and several Mangyan leaders, you were empathic about your allegiance to the law and your assurance to punish anyone in your office who does not abide by the law. In our spontaneous joy at your declaration of withdrawal of the ECC, we were not able to follow up the name of the person who recommended to you its issuance without the proper procedure. Who had been at fault in issuing the ECC? Is anyone accountable for it?
We also discussed about the area covered being a watershed. You were once again emphatic that no mining company will ever be allowed to operate in a watershed area. Despite DENR’s failure to formally declare part of the contested location a watershed, all of the representatives from Mindoro present in the dialogue confirmed that some 11,000 hectares covered by the ECC definitely includes the watershed that feeds the two Mindoro provinces.
The fact that the area is a watershed has long been established and explains why former DENR Secretary Alvarez cancelled the company’s mining permit in July 2001. Even the technical descriptions of the place bear this out. Why then was the ECC merely suspended, and not cancelled as logic demands? Will a mere suspension order correct this mistake? Take note that the mining concession is not only a catchment for the critical watershed of the island, but the area also overlaps with the ancestral domains of the indigenous peoples – Alangan and Tadyawan Mangyans, whose leaders and representatives are continually holding the hunger strike in front of your DENR office. They categorically declare that a genuine Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) was never granted and that the Intex Resources resorted to deception and indirect bribery to get a pseudo-support from a number of indigenous leaders. I do not know what manner of advice you received to issue this suspension. But it is not too late to correct the error – and soon! The 25 hunger strikers, most of them Mangyans, are now in the 7th day of their hunger strike. Don’t you care at all for their situation? Is this not part of your pro-life stance? We hear that in a matter of days you will submit your resignation from office to run for elections. Is the delay a tactic to wash your hands from your responsibility? You issued the defective ECC; have the courage to revoke it! Allow me to remind you that your responsibility is more towards the care of the Philippine environment and the Filipinos who mostly depend on a well-balanced ecosystem than towards foreign investors who are here not to help our country – in spite of all their protestations – but to exploit us and our natural resources. If you would have to make a mistake, better err defending the lives of the Filipino people, than err defending money and foreigners! Better to lose your face in front of foreigners than to lose it in front of your countrymen and women! Mindoro, blessed by God with rich natural resources, is a food basket of the southern Tagalog provinces, including Metro Manila. Thousands of small farmers depend on the rivers flowing from the mountains for their irrigation. All these would be lost due to mining operation. It is because of this delicate balance of nature in the island that the provinces of Oriental and Occidental Mindoro and the Municipality of Sablayan, where the mining site is located, have issued a moratorium of mining for 25 years. In our dialogue, you have repeatedly challenged the local officials of the island to stand their ground not to allow mining operation in the two provinces. And indeed, they have stood their ground! They have issued the moratorium. But why is this not being respected by your national office? The ECC you issued is for mining. The provinces have clearly stated that they do not want mining. Why have you even entertained the application for its issuance, and much more, issued it?
You have always insisted on the observance of the law. But the way you disregarded the decision of the local government units in Mindoro is a gross violation of Section 70 of the Mining Act of 1995, which clearly requires the conduct of a genuine consultation, approval and endorsement through ordinance from the affected municipalities and the provincial government.
Moreover, the basis for issuing the ECC is utterly baseless since you also disregarded the decision of the independent scientists who conducted the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The EIA Review Committee for the Mindoro Nickel Project voted on September 23, 2009 to recommend the denial of the ECC. However, on October 14, 2009, you unilaterally reversed the experts’ decision and issued the ECC, thereby endangering the environmental safety of the island province.
I appeal to you, Mr. Secretary, to revoke the ECC. Do not blame the people for going into hunger strike. They would not have done it if the ECC was not issued in the first place. They want to have their voices heard, and now, many people even out of Mindoro – bishops, priests, religious, lawmakers, students, parishioners and many NGO supporters are hearing it. Now is the chance for you to prove your pro-life stand and the respect you hold out for the primacy of local government. Otherwise, please do not campaign on pro-life issues in the coming election and do not claim that you are for the good of the local government in which you would be running. “If you close your ear to the cry of the poor, you will cry out and not be heard.” (Proverbs 21,13) I pray that you would have courage, humility and compassion.
BRODERICK S. PABILLO, DD
Auxiliary Bishop of Manila
Chairman of the CBCP-Episcopal Commission on Social Action – Justice and Peace