PH could face international arbitration for mine closures: Dominguez

Finance Sec. Carlos Dominguez delivers a speech in July 2016 file photo. PHILIPPINE NEWS AGENCY means BUSINESS

MANILA –  The Philippines could be looking at protracted international arbitration cases should Malacañang approve with finality the controversial revocation of mining agreements with foreign equities, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez Tuesday.

Speaking before the meeting of the Commission on Appointments (CA), Dominguez said failure by Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Regina Lopez to follow due process in ordering the mining closures could result in a legal challenge from affected companies.

In this, Dominguez said, “The Philippines would surely lose.”

Dominguez co-chairs with Lopez the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC), which was supposed to conduct a review of the controversial audit on mining firms conducted by a slew of consultants and outside groups put together by Lopez.  She had aggreed to the review of the mining audit, but last week, appealed to President Duterte to scuttle the review.

Dominguez on Tuesday told the CA environment and natural resources committee chaired by Sen. Manny Pacquiao he could not conceive of the President ignoring the processes for enforcing mining rules and regulations "because he is a stickler’’ for rules.

Despite the termination of the hearings on the confirmation of Lopez's ad interim appointment, Pacquiao allowed Dominguez to talk to the panel on the MICC report regarding the closure of 23 mining firms and cancellation of another 75 Mineral Production Sharing Agreements (MPSA).

President Duterte said he does not mind losing P70 billion in annual revenues from the mining sector when all 311 operating mines are closed, if the price of keeping them open is an environmentally degraded country.

Pacquiao said Lopez is officially by-passed since he will not recommend her confirmation on the last plenary session as the Senate and the House of Representatives go on a six-week recess starting Thursday.

However, Pacquiao gave Lopez until May 3 to prove herself, while adding that in his assessment, she has a 50-50 chance of confirmation.

“Right now, I'm talking to members. I don't want to pressure them as they have their own decisions. I'm just asking them, taking their pulse. There's a chance of confirmation, but it's just 50-50,” Pacquiao said, mostly in Filipino.

Lopez will face the CA members on May 3 when the bicameral panel resumes committee hearings, which are done to determine the competence and capability of a presidential nominee before his or her appointment is confirmed or rejected.   

“Actually we adjourned the meeting so that [in] May, when we come back, we will open the hearing, and we’ll give her time, we will send her a copy of this meeting so she can review and after that [in ] May, I will give her time to answer this meeting and we will ask questions of her.  That's when we decide,” Pacquiao said.

Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino IV was able to elicit from Dominguez that there is no time limit given to the President to finally issue a closure order on the mines affected.

Sen. Joseph Victor ‘’JV’’ G. Ejercito, a pro-Duterte ally, said he wants the institutionalized adoption of responsible mining. 

"It is not often you find somebody who has the guts to fight the mining titans. Let us not let this opportunity pass. I am inclined to support Secretary Lopez,’’ he said.

Ejercito said mines should be allowed to continue operating only if they follow the strict, high standards of responsible mining as is being done by Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Dominguez warned that closing down the mines without following protocols may push the country back to the Stone Age.

He said he could not see human activity humming without the metals used in the production of iron, steel, batteries for cellphones, cars, among others.

He said that the mining industry’s revenues give .7 to .8 percent to the gross national product (GDP) with 2012 estimated at P20.6 billion, 2013 at P24.4 billion, 2014 at P32.7 billion and 2015 at P29.57 billion.