GUIUAN, EASTERN SAMAR, Philippines — Miners and residents of Manicani mine of the Hinatuan Mining Corp. have called the ongoing audit of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) "unfair and baseless” and appealed for the lifting of the suspension of its ore transport permit.

"The audit is unfair. It did not pass through the right procedure. We were audited for three hours only. They have not given us any opportunity to talk to them. We want to express our side,” HMC community relations manager Francis Malones said.

"Majority [of the residents] does not know what is happening. They [audit team] only checked our ECC (environment compliance certificate) and safety plan. The suspension was only coursed through our head office,” he added.

"We were supposed to know the results right after the audit. But we were only informed days after that,” he added.

The HMC is seeking further explanation from the DENR and the audit team and an appeal to lift the suspension.

“Nickel Asia has volunteered to appeal for a re-audit and we are ready anytime,” HMC project manage Manolito Javar said.

"We are waiting for the DENR to schedule the audit of the HMC stockpile removal operations on Manicani as soon as possible so that the loading can resume leading to the removal of an environmental hazard and the generation of much needed income for the residents,” NAC Corporate Communications vice president JB Baylon said.

On July 20, Environment Secretary Gina Lopez ordered a stop to the export of nickel ore from Manicani mine of the Hinatuan Mining Corp., an affiliate of listed Nickel Asia Corp., due to excessive soil extraction.

“The audit found out that the company was taking too much soil and is disturbing the ecology of the place. They are taking the soil out and it goes to China. We are suspending the retrieving of the stockpiles, to address the ecological balance,” she said.

'Returning stockpiles impossible'

Instead of shipping the ore to China, Lopez is proposing that the company use the nickel ore for mine restoration but HMC has insisted that that is not possible.

"Who will return it? Where will they return it? Those stockpiles are meant to be disposed. We can't put it back. In the first place, it was them who recommended us to do such activity," Malones said.

In July 2014, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau allowed and ordered the retrieval and disposal of stockpiles, which have been present since 1994, two years after it started mining operations.

The HMC has a total of 1.4 million metric tons (MT) of stockpile and only 265,000 has been exported.

Manicani still has a mine life of 13 years and only 15 hectares of the total 1,165-hectare area have been mined. Manicani stopped mining operations after it was suspended in 1994.

Meanwhile, resident and community leader Imelda Raganas said the mine suspension has resulted in the loss of employment of close to 500 workers.

“We are appealing to the secretary for us to continue our jobs here. This is our source of income and we have nowhere to go,” she said.

The residents are also adamant on Lopez’s vow to provide employment and alternative livelihood to displaced workers of suspended mining firms that fail to meet environmental and safety standards.

“We don’t agree with that because the livelihood they are saying has no assurance.

They suggest that we get involved in fishing but that is not sustainable since there are residents from other provinces who are also entering our area,” Raganas said.

To recall, the new DENR administration called for the official audit of all operating mines and the moratorium on the approval of new mining projects.

Lopez reiterated that technical audit alone is not enough, as social, environmental, and health aspects are being considered as well.

The DENR is set to release the result of the mining audit of large and small-scale companies third week of this month.

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