Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has urged Congress to investigate the reported illegal mining operations in Candelaria, Zambales and its alleged links to the illegal construction of Chinese infrastructure and reclamation projects in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
De Lima filed Senate Resolution (SR) No. 720 directing the appropriate Senate Committee to conduct an inquiry into the said mining operation in Zambales as well as a systematic review of all pending and ongoing large-scale mining projects in the Philippines to determine their compliance with relevant environmental laws, regulations, guidelines and procedures.
“It cannot be gainsaid that the adverse effects, disastrous consequences, serious injury and irreparable damage of this continued trend of the destruction of nature to the present generation and to generations yet unborn are evident and incontrovertible,” she said.
“The State must not shut its eyes to the realities that demand its urgent action and a faithful compliance to its duty under the Constitution to protect and uphold the right of one and all to a balanced and healthful ecology,” she added.
A petition paper dated April 21 submitted by the non-government, people’s organization Save Candelaria Zambales Movement, Inc. claims that a certain Yinglong Steel Corporation has been illegally conducting mining operations in the municipality of Candelaria in the province of Zambales.
The petition paper notes that several ocular inspections by local officials in Candelaria have determined that Yinglong has been cutting trees, constructing access roads, building facilities such as bunkhouses, and using heavy equipment without necessary permits.
The petitioners also suspect that the materials being illegally mined are eventually used to construct China’s reclamation and military infrastructures in the WPS, a claim which has been raised by several other environmental groups for various dredging and mining projects all over the Philippines.
In filing the Resolution, De Lima underscored the urgent need to conduct a systematic review of existing policies and legislation pertaining to mining and determine a policy direction that will not only protect human rights and preserve the environment but also protect Philippine sovereignty as well.
“There is also a need to verify the serious allegations that the materials being extracted in various mining and dredging projects are indeed being used to construct and fortify illegal Chinese infrastructure projects in the WPS,” she added.
De Lima further stressed the need to ensure that the exploration and utilization of the country’s natural resources, and the implementation of projects that are public in nature, are in compliance with existing laws and in pursuit of national interests and for the economic and ecological benefit of the Filipino people.
“The exigency of raising funds for the government’s budget deficit and response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic should never be an excuse to open the ‘floodgates’ of unregulated and illegal mining that destructs the environment and the future of our younger generations,” she said.
“The enforcement of existing mining laws and policies should be ensured and the full extent of these laws must be upheld, including penalizing violators of these laws considering the irreparable destruction of illegal mining activities brings to our environment, culture and society,” she added.
It may be recalled that further controversy surrounding the mining industry was stirred when, in a move intended to spur the pandemic-ridden economy, President Duterte issued Executive Order (EO) No. 130 last April 15 which lifted a nearly decade-long moratorium on new mining agreements.
During her stint as justice secretary, De Lima created a task force led by the National Bureau of Investigation to lead a crackdown against several illegal black sand mining operators in Cagayan and Ilocos Sur. The move led to the filing of charges against several individuals.
Last March, De Lima filed SR No. 687 urging the Senate Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Climate Change to investigate the Cagayan Offshore Magnetite Mining Project due to its reported negative environmental and social impacts to local communities and ecosystems in the province of Cagayan. (30)