A watchdog in need
of watching

THE Provincial Mining and Regulatory Board (PMRB) acts like the environment department’s eyes and ears on the ground when it comes to how mining is being carried out in a particular, well, province. Among other things, a governor approves the issuance of a small-scale mining contract only upon the recommendation of the board.

To ensure that the concerned sectors have their say in the board, the Small-Scale Mining Act stipulates that the PMRB’s five members be made up of one representative each from the regional office of the environment department, the office of the governor, the large-scale mining industry, the small-scale mining sector, and civil society.

The environment department representative chairs the PMRB, thereby keeping it under the control of the national agency. But that no longer seems to be the case in Zambales, where the board has been packed with the governor’s hand-picked appointees.

For sure, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has held on to its single board seat. But that’s still one against four. Aside from provincial legal counsel Noel Ferrer, the governor’s representative, there is small-mining permit-holder Arsenia Lim for the small-scale mining sector, and Deody Solee of FIL-ASIAN Mining for the large-scale mining industry. There is also Dr. Teresa Yap of the Zambales Tourism Council Foundation.

In a 2007 letter to Environment Secretary Lito Atienza, Governor Amor Deloso admitted that he had tapped Lim and Solee for the board “even without prior endorsement from their respective sector inasmuch as there is no existing organization yet in the province for small-scale miners and large-scale miners.”

Apparently he did not bother to consult the Chamber of Mines and the Small-Scale Mining Association, which, the law says, gets to nominate one representative each to the board “in case of the absence of nominees from the area.”

The appointment of Yap to the board is also questionable since according to law, the representative from a “nongovernment organization must come from an environmental group duly accredited by the DENR.”
Yap, a dermatologist, admitted to the PCIJ as well that her group was not registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. No other group was considered for the PMRB, she said. According to Yap, she had been part of a group that met with Deloso to ask that Mount Tapulao, Zambales’s highest peak, be spared from mineral exploration.

“I was a bit outspoken during the meeting, and right there and then he asked me to join the board,” she said.

At the very least, that may mean she would be willing to vote against the governor if necessary, even though Deloso may still have the numbers.

In fact, a sixth person used to attend the PMRB meetings, although the board would not allow him to vote. On August 13, 2007, the Zambales Sangguniang Panlalawigan had approved a 30-page ordinance that, among other things, expanded the PMRB’s membership to six.

The provincial board’s environment committee chairman was to be the PMRB’s newest member. That happened to be Sanggunian Panlalawigan member Samuel Ablola, who was, interestingly enough, the ordinance’s author.

Ablola insisted on sitting in the board, despite an October 5, 2007 Special Order by Secretary Atienza reiterating the PMRB’s five-member composition. Reports from Zambales, however, now say that Ablola, offended that other PMRB members barred him from voting, recently stopped attending the board’s meetings. Board insiders say they are waiting for an opinion on the matter from the capitol’s legal department.

In the meantime, other legal experts say the provincial ordinance was pretty much like a local body amending a republic act, which just won’t do.

Comments Marvic Leonen, dean of the College of Law of the University of the Philippines: “No action by the local government can amend the law.”

Environmental lawyer Ipat Luna agrees. “The Sangguniang Panlalawigan cannot supersede the Small-Scale Mining Act, because it is the baseline law,” she says. “They cannot ignore the Small-Scale Mining Act, they can only add to the rules.” – PCIJ, August 2009