Senators Press Probe of "GMA Crony" Coal-Mine Contract - BM

SENATORS are pressing for an independent inquiry into a controversial coal-mine contract awarded to Monte Oro Resources Energy by the Department of Energy (DOE) without consultation with residents and local officials of at least three towns to be affected by the mining operations in Catanduanes province.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. backed a proposal by Sen. Panfilo Lacson for a joint congressional oversight committee on environment to conduct an immediate investigation of the Monte Oro mining deal based on complaints aired by concerned Roman Catholic Church leaders that the DOE awarded the contract without public consultations.

“Yes, I support that [Lacson proposal for an inquiry] wholeheartedly,” Pimentel said, adding the congressional investigation should not be limited to Catanduanes but should cover other mining operations to ascertain their compliance with environment-protection laws. “I support any attempt… to make sure that our laws are being followed.”

Lacson told reporters that the Senate should look into the Catanduanes coal deal allowing Monte Oro to conduct mining operations in nearly 8,000 hectares mainly because of the “environmental concerns” raised by the Church leaders.

Walang public consultations apparently kasi ang bishop mismo doon ang nag-o-object. So dapat kumilos ang Committee on Energy sa Senate; in fact, both Houses [of Congress should do it], kasi meron kaming joint oversight committee sa environment,” Lacson added.

“I think the Senate should step in and investigate. These are very serious environmental concerns…8,000 hectares…where you will extract coal so maapektuhan talaga ang ecology ng Catanduanes, if not the whole region.”

Sen. Gregorio Honasan, who chairs the Senate energy committee, told the BusinessMirror he would immediately convene a public hearing as soon as the matter is referred to his committee by the Senate leadership.

This developed as Sen. Ana Consuelo Madrigal filed Resolution 1289 asking the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, and the Committee on Accountability of Public Officers and Investigation (blue ribbon) to investigate the mining contract the DOE awarded to Monte Oro which, she said, “will lead to enormous environmental destruction and degradation in the province of Catanduanes.”

But Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, in a separate interview, said there may be no need for such an inquiry because he was assured by Monte Oro part owner, businessman Enrique Razon, that the company had “abandoned” the mining project.

“According to Ricky [Razon], they have abandoned the project a long time ago because it was found to be unprofitable. I checked it. I called him up, because Ricky is very close to my family; when he was a boy he used to sleep in the house with my son Jack, so I called him up. I said Ricky what is this I read in the papers. He said that was a long time ago. They found [it] to be limited. I understand they did not pursue it,” Enrile explained.

Asked if the Senate should still pursue an inquiry on the basis of the complaints of the Church leaders, Enrile replied: “What is the purpose of looking into it? To find out whether they have applied properly or they conducted the necessary exploration procedures? You know, mining in this country is governed by law. If you comply with the law, there’s nothing wrong about it as long as you do not degrade the environment.”

The Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) is pressing for the resignation of Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes in connection with his controversial approval of a large-scale coal-mining activity in Catanduanes.

Pamalakaya national chairman Fernando Hicap said Reyes made it possible for the Monte de Oro Resources Energy to undertake what he describes as a “catastrophic coal mining activity” on the island-province of Catanduanes despite the risk involved.

“The resignation of Secretary Reyes and his immediate investigation for possible criminal and administrative offenses regarding the P6.2-billion coal-extraction project in Catanduanes are the tall order of the day,” Hicap said.

Aside from Reyes’s ouster from the department, the group is pressing MalacaƱang to nullify the contract between the government and Monte de Oro group.

The group asserted that the situation in Catanduanes calls for the immediate nullification of the business permit issued to Monte de Oro and the declaration of Catanduanes as a coal mining-free island.

Catanduanes is one of the six provinces of the Bicol region and the 12th largest island in the country. It is mainly a fish-producing province and is providing immediate fishing jobs and food to its more than 200,000 population. (With J. Mayuga)

Written by Butch Fernandez / Reporter
Wednesday, 19 August 2009 21:34
Business Mirror

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