Expert from Mindanao appointed to head MGB

HARDLY have miners come to terms with the fact a staunch environmentalist has taken over the department overseeing their industry, when President Rodrigo R. Duterte replaced the chief of the attached Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB).

In Presidential Directive No. 002 signed on July 26 and uploaded on the MGB Web site, Mr. Duterte named Mario Luis J. Jacinto director of the MGB, concurrent with his rank of undersecretary at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), replacing Leo L. Jasareno who is assuming the higher rank of senior undersecretary, though his actual portfolio is unclear.

Before this, DENR had only one senior undersecretary -- Joselin Marcus E. Fragada -- who is in charge of field operations and line bureaus.

The same order said Mr. Jacinto "shall have the authority and supervision over the organization and operations of the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) for the purpose of overseeing the effective and successful implementation of its programs, activities, and projects."

Mr. Jacinto, a 1977 BS Geology graduate at the University of the Philippines, was tasked to assist Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Regina Paz "Gina" L. Lopez "by ensuring that all actions pertaining to permits, clearances, certificates, personnel recruitment, movements, and appointments relating to MGB and EMB functions that are authorized to be signed, issued by, or delegated to the DENR Secretary, are thoroughly reviewed and evaluated by his office for consideration and final disposition of the DENR Secretary."

'LEO IS THE BEST!!!!'

While neither affected official was immediately available for comment, Ms. Lopez said Mr. Jasareno was being bestowed a higher rank.

"I like Mr. Jasareno. I am making him senior USEC [undersecretary]," Ms. Lopez said via text.

"LOUIE (Jacinto) was sent to me. Leo is the best!!!!"

After graduating from UP, Mr. Jacinto worked with DENR and MGB mainly in Mindanao and particularly from Davao City, conducting geological mapping and materials exploration.

An expert in environment and natural resource (ENR) management, Mr. Jacinto had also served as consultant for various firms and the World Bank-funded ENR Sectoral Adjustment Program.

Mr. Jacinto took post-graduate training and studies in ENR Management and Mining Management with the Development Academy of the Philippines, UP Los BaAos, as well as in Nairobi, Kenya; Washington D.C. and the People's Republic China.

It was not immediately known what had prompted the changing of the guard at the MGB.

In some interviews with journalists, Mr. Jasareno had detailed action taken against MGB regional personnel who had been found negligent in enforcing mining-related environmental regulations and, just last June, admitted that roughly half of the country's 44 metal mines had been warned about falling short of such standards.

Mr. Jasareno had enforced the moratorium on new mining permits that has been in place since 2011 and extended indefinitely through Executive Order No. 79 signed by former president Benigno S. C. Aquino III on July 6, 2012.

Latest official data on the MGB Web site show that value of mining investments had risen by 62.7% to $1.5 billion in 2013 from $921.7 million in 2012 but has been on the decline since then: to $1.193 billion in 2014 and then to $924.9 million last year.

The same data show mining contributing 0.6-0.7% annually to gross domestic product from 2012 to last year (0.7% in 2016's first quarter) as well as 0.6-0.7% to total employment (0.5% in the first quarter of this year).

Production of precious metals increased last year. Gold grew 12% to 20,643 kilograms (kg) in 2015 from 18,423 kg in 2014, while silver increased to 29,780 kg from 23,005 kg.

But output of base metals dropped, among others: copper concentrate by 3% to 337,185 dry metric tons (DMT) in 2015 from 349,269 DMT in 2014; mixed nickel-cobalt sulfide, also by 3% to 84,995 DMT from 87,280 DMT; nickel direct shipping ore by 2% to 32.304 million DMT from 33.128 million DMT; chromite by 67% to 15,502 DMT from 47,056 DMT; and iron ore by 73% to 41,942 DMT from 153,775 DMT.

Value of total metal output dropped 23% to P108.212 billion last year from P140.150 billion in 2014.

Of 9 million hectares identified as having high mineral reserves, only 3% is being mined, according to the MGB.

Sought for comment, Dante R. Bravo, president of Global Ferronickel Holdings, Inc. -- the country's second largest nickel miner by output -- said he remains hopeful, whoever is put in charge of industry regulation.

"But we are hoping that the industry would continue to be given a chance to grow as the industry is a partner to national development, provides significant revenue to the government, both national and local, and provides immediate employment, with due regard to strict environmental compliance and social development," Mr. Bravo said via text.

Mr. Duterte on Monday warned mining companies to strictly follow tighter environmental rules or shut down, saying the Philippines could survive without a mining industry.

"We will survive as a nation without you," Mr. Duterte told a media briefing, referring to the country's miners. "Either you follow strictly government standards or you close down."

The Philippines has so far suspended the operations of seven domestic nickel mines for failure to comply with environmental regulations. Ms. Lopez, who began an audit of mining sites on July 8, last week vowed to close more operations as public complaints mount against those causing environmental destruction.

Mr. Duterte said the government can forgo the nearly P30 billion in taxes, fees and royalties collected each year from mining.

Source: Business World Online