Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Gina Lopez on Thursday told the country’s lone coal mine Semirara Mining and Power Corporation (SMPC) that it will suspend its environment compliance certificate (ECC) unless it explains its violations in its Antique operations.
“While [Semirara is] producing the coal which is needed for the country, they can’t continue to adversely affect the lives of our farmers and fishermen. That’s not right at all. They have to get their act together,” Lopez said.
Environment undersecretary Leo Jasareno said that there were “basic issues that were not solved in mining in Semirara.”
“First is that their open pit mine is now below sea level,” Jasareno, who also heads the Mining Audit Team, said.
“The Semirara Island has an area of only 5,000 hectares and the pit occupies about 40 hectares but there is a new expansion area of about 600 hectares in the middle of the island. If the mining commence, the issue is what will happen after the mining? How would DMCI do rehabilitation of the island if you have such a big hole in the area. The issues on pollution have to be addressed,” he said.
SMPC is a subsidiary of DMCI Holdings, Inc., the developer of the controversial Torre de Manila.
A tricky problem
Lopez said closing down Semirara is a “tricky problem” since it accounts for over 92 percent of the country’s coal production.
“Right now, the energy mix in the country is more inclined towards coal, so this is not as easy to just close because if you do that, it will affect – you don’t want brownouts and things like that,” she said.
Jasareno said power generation may be affected, and the department needs to study how this can be addressed, “so that the DENR will not be blamed: ‘Sinara niyo, tumaas kuryente (You closed it down, electricity rates spiked.”
Lopez said the boilers of the existing coal plants are “not designed to take on high quality coal. They are just using low grade coal that’s making people sick.”
“You can’t do something like this if your heart is alive. You can’t do something like this if you love people. You can’t. You only do it because your heart is dead. It’s dead, you can’t feel. People suffer, you don’t care. All you care about is the money that you make,” she said.
“There will always be a middle ground where the DENR can attain its objective without causing suffering to the public,” Jasareno said, ensuring that the DENR will make a well-informed decision on the matter.
DENR said it will be issuing a show-cause order to the firm after its audit uncovered complaints on siltation, mangrove clearing and coral reef damages. Other issues also include the degradation of water quality and the presence of contaminants in the water, as well as unsafe working conditions. The order covers all the pits uncovered by the firm.
An ECC suspension will prevent SMPC pushing forward with their existing projects as well as any expansions they have planned.
The company has been suspended several times before. In 2014, the west wall of SMPC’s Panian open pit collapsed and killed five workers. The following year, there was a landslide incident on the site which buried alive several of its workers.
On the same day, SMPC issued a statement and said they have yet to receive a copy of the order from DENR.
“We would like to reiterate that Semirara Mining and Power Corporation has been fully complying with all relevant laws and regulations. Our mining and environmental protocols also conform with the conditions of our Environmental Compliance Certificates,” the statement read.
“We hope that our company will be accorded due process throughout any pre- and formal audit process of the government.”