Philippines Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Gina Lopez announced on February 14 that 75 mineral production sharing agreements (MPSA) for mining sites that are within watershed areas face cancellation. 

Lopez said show cause orders have been issued to mining companies to allow them to explain why their MPSAs should not be canceled for threatening watersheds. MPSA holders have seven days to reply, she added.

On February 2, Lopez ordered the closure of 23 mining operations found to have committed environmental violations during the industry-wide audit conducted by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Fifteen of these mines are operating within watershed areas.

Of the 75 MPSAs issued show cause orders, 27 are in Luzon, 11 in Visayas and 37 in Mindanao.

Lopez said her decision is backed by the provisions of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, which gives the DENR the power to regulate and make decisions pertaining to watersheds.

“This is to show you that whatever dictum I make on watersheds, this is in fact protected by the Mining Act of 1995, which says that we must enhance national growth in a way that effectively safeguards the environment and protects the right of the affected communities,” Lopez explained.

Citing studies by scientists, Lopez said that rehabilitating mined out areas in watersheds to near its original state is almost impossible, thus placing watersheds in danger and the water in the area at risk. She insisted that there should be no mining in watershed areas.

An MPSA is an agreement between the government and a contractor, which grants them an exclusive right to conduct mining operations within the contract area. In return, the government is given a share in the production of the contractor. The MPSA has a term of 25 years and may be renewed for another term not exceeding 25 years.

During the mining audit that was performed last year, entry and exit conferences were conducted to discuss the methodology, procedure and the result of the audit, Lopez said. Companies were also given seven days to respond to the results of the audit, providing a leeway for them to clear the issues that were raised.

“From their responses, a further review was conducted by a technical review committee for five months before releasing the results, ensuring that we followed the process meticulously,” Lopez said.