Monte Oro: ‘We Have Abandoned Coal Project’ - INQ

MANILA, Philippines—Monte Oro Resources & Energy Inc. abandoned its search for coal in Catanduanes province as early as last year, the company said Tuesday.

“Based on our exploration program which has been completed, we do not consider the potential sufficient to our proceeding with the next phase which is development and underground mining” Monte Oro said in a statement.

The company issued the statement amid a campaign launched by the Catholic Church, local government officials and civil society to oppose the plan of Monte Oro to extract coal in the province.

But Monte Oro’s statement that it was ending its search for coal in the province was a turnaround from what Monte Oro Resources & Energy Inc. chair Walter Brown said on Monday.

Still exploring

Brown said the company was still exploring prospective coal areas in Catanduanes, which were seen to yield high grade coal.

As Monte Oro was still in the exploration stage, Brown said it had yet to decide whether to push through with the coal project and apply for a development and production coal operating contract (COC).

However, Monte Oro was already working on getting the necessary permits to operate in the area, Brown said.

Should the group decide to move forward with the project, Brown said the company would likely do underground mining and the coal would be sold in the local market.

Token exploration

In its statement, Monte Oro said it had made token exploration holes in the province to test the mine site’s potential for coal.

“As the operator of Coal Operating Contract No. 143, the company has conducted its exploration of the area awarded to it on Catanduanes island in a responsible and professional manner.

“Monte Oro has obtained all the necessary permits required by government both local and national for its activities, which are purely exploratory in nature and do not involve mining,” the company said.

The Department of Energy awarded 7,000 hectares of land in the towns of San Andres, Caramoran and Panganiban in 2005.

The Diocese of Virac and other groups opposed to coal mining claimed that the energy department awarded Monte Oro the area without public consultation.

They claim that large-scale coal mining in the province would destroy its forest cover and biodiversity, cause flooding and pollute its waterways.

Revoke contract

Expressing his opposition to any large-scale mining in the province, Gov. Joseph Cua has officially requested Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes to revoke and cancel the contracts awarded to Monte Oro.

“We will stand by the will of the people,” Cua was quoted as saying in a letter to Reyes, which was sent Tuesday just hours after the Inquirer ran a story on Church opposition to the coal project.

Moratorium

The spokesperson of Cua, Prince Subion, has said that officials of the energy department told the governor that Monte Oro had declared a moratorium in its coal exploration activities in Catanduanes.

The prospective coal area was granted to Monte Oro under the Philippine Energy Contracting Round (PECR) of 2005.

PECR is a public bidding round aimed at encouraging companies to invest in the country’s energy sector. These contracting rounds, which showcase the country’s potential areas for exploration and development, are expected to spur investments and help cut costly oil imports.

A prospective miner has asked the Municipal Council of Panganiban to endorse his mining operation in the town, part of the area assigned to Monte Oro.

Policarpio Torres has obtained a small-scale mining permit from Reyes in October 2008 covering land in Barangay San Miguel.

Under the permit valid for five years, Torres can extract 7,333 metric tons a year at Campo Ermitaño under supervision from Monte Oro when its COC is converted into a development and production COC.

The permit said all coal produced by Torres would be sold to Monte Oro.

No participation

In its statement, Monte Oro said it had no participation in the small-scale mining permit application supposedly filed for the area covered by its COC in the province.

Under a COC, a firm is granted two years to explore a prospective coal area and can be allowed an extension of another two years, after which it has to apply for a development and production COC.

It is at this stage that companies have to get several permits from various government agencies, including an environment compliance certificate (ECC) from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

On Monday, Energy Undersecretary Ramon Allan Oca said Monte Oro was expected to present by October the results of its exploration, the feasibility of pushing through with the project and whether it would be of economic interest to investors.

November deadline

This would be in time for the November 2009 deadline, when the COC will expire, according to Oca.

Reyes on Tuesday said the COC awarded to Monte Oro and the small-scale mining permit granted to Torres were “well aboveboard.”

“These activities were misinterpreted to be actual mining. A COC which is at the exploration stage does not require an environmental compliance certificate yet. The ECC will be issued before actual commercial extraction begins,” Reyes said in a statement.

He said it was patently false to say that Torres did not consult with local officials.

“In fact, he was issued a certification in connection with his application for a small-scale mining permit by San Miguel’s Barangay Chair Jose J. Rima on July 02, 2008 and Panganiban Mayor Gregorio E. Angeles on June 16, 2008 respectively,” the energy secretary said.

The Municipal Council, however, passed a resolution on Nov. 17, 2008, objecting to the inclusion of 2,000 hectares of the town’s territory in Monte Oro’s operating contract.

Torres has not started any mining operation since the issuance of his permit, according to Reyes.

Dialogue

Reyes said the Department of Energy would continue embarking on information caravans and public consultations with local government units and other sectors to ensure the sustainability of the projects.

Oca earlier said the energy department had sent representatives to Catanduanes last week to again hold dialogues with the provincial and municipal government officials to “better inform” them about the project and its benefits, and avoid misunderstanding among stakeholders.

On Aug. 13 and 14, the Department of Energy represented by senior geologist Rogelio del Rosario Jr. visited local officials of Panganiban, San Andres and Caramoran.

Public hearings

The energy department requested the towns’ councils for an orientation on mining but the local executives opted instead for a public hearing.

The public hearings are scheduled for Aug. 27 in San Andres, Sept. 14 in Caramoran and Sept. 17 in Panganiban.

Bishop Manolo de los Santos of the Diocese of Virac has expressed his desire to attend the hearings. Members of the Katandungan Kontra Mina are also going to the hearings to express their sentiments.

Energy officials also talked to Cua and Rep. Joseph Santiago, who has yet to make public his stand on the issue but is reportedly in favor of responsible mining. With a report from Gil Cabacungan Jr.

By Fernan Gianan, Amy R. Remo
Inquirer Southern Luzon, Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:26:00 08/19/2009

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