Statement on restoration of ECC for SMC East Panian expansion

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On 10 August 2015, Department of Environment and Natural Resources Assistant Secretary and concurrent Environmental Management Bureau Director, Atty. Juan Miguel T. Cuna restored the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC-CO-9805-009-302A) for the East Panian Expansion Project of the Semirara Mining Corporation (SMC). This came after protests and calls for the closure of the SMC mining operations in Antique following two Panian tragedies, massive destruction of natural habitats critical to sustenance on Semirara Island, displacement of local labor, alienation of local residents from livelihood resources traditionally accessible to them, and mounting calls prevent further carbon emissions critical to mitigation of global warming.

The lift order issued by Asec. Cuna was founded only on SMC’s commitment to include in their ECC the four recommendations made by the Environmental Impact Assessment and Review Committee (EIARC). These were mere reiterations of worker safety inside the mine and the safety of the mine itself. The recommendations disregarded the actual impact of the coal mine operations to the environment – which should have been the crux of the ECC. The DENR, Asec. Cuna and the EIARC employed a parochial legalistic approach to the question of the SMC’s ECC resulting in the lifting of the suspension order.

The DENR’s grievous mistake has been to take the coal mining operations out of the context of the environment it destroys, and the impending national disasters resulting from this environmental destruction. The recommendations of the DENR were more in the nature of ensuring the safety of environmental criminals as they destroy the environment.

At most the recommendations were a mockery of the issue at hand. What with the DENR EMB asking the SMC to “Submit a detailed assessment on the cause of the slope failure, probable mechanism of slope failure, performance of monitoring instruments such as piezometer, tilt meters and ground water level in open hole monitoring wells (if there is any). The assessment shall also include climate change considerations/ projections and hydrological/hydrogeological events on the stability as well as eroding of the mine workings (italics, ours). Likewise a finite element modelling is required for assessment.”

Further what with the DENR EMB asking the SMC to “Conduct a hazard and operability (HAZOP) study within sixty (60) days. The HAZOP shall be updated every five (5) years thereafter, to ensure that hazards and risks are kept at a minimum. The report shall be submitted to EMB Central Office within sixty (60) days from the conduct of the assessment.”

The DENR EMB’s two mentioned recommendations are clear indications of either their incompetence to handle an actual environmental impact assessment or a contrivance to ensure that the coal mining operations continue despite protests. Delegating the task of an assessing agency to the institution being assessed simply goes against the logic of check and balance and correct judgement.

The restoration of SMC’s ECC for its East Panian Expansion Project is an atrocity. It is a convoluted attempt to sidestep the issue of coal being a major contributor to carbon emission, which in turn is the number one cause of global warming. It is a gross omission of timely and appropriate response to the fact that the Philippines is number eight among the countries most affected by rise in sea level and number one by typhoons and weather disturbances both caused by global warming. It disregards the fact that many will be rendered homeless, hungry, and dead by the government’s inability to sufficiently respond and cope with such disasters caused by global warming. It disregards the fact that coal mining has destroyed a substantial part of Semirara Island with one depleted open pit already under water.

The call for closure of the Semirara coal mines is not about the safety of the working conditions nor the safety of the mine itself. The call is about its direct hand in national environmental disasters being a contributor to global warming. If the DENR EMB still believes that the Semirara coal mine is environmentally compliant, then it needs to review the scientific perspective upon which the agency itself is founded. The restoration of SMC’s ECC for its East Panian Expansion Project is not only an atrocity but a murderous act – inconspicuous and cunning until it renders someone lifeless.


College President