DENR chief urged to revoke coal plant permit

Secretary Atienza pressed to revoke permit of Semirara mining due to Mercury hazards

The left-leaning fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) on Wednesday urged Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Joselito Atienza to immediately revoke the permit of Semirara Mining Co. (SMC) in Semirara Island in Antique.

“Mercury is rising in Semirara Island. We should not wait this to develop into a full-blown monster that will endanger the entire island, the entire Panay Island and adjacent areas in Western and Central Visayas. Secretary Atienza is obliged to make a decisive move to stop this looming environmental disaster and catastrophe across the Visayas,” Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap said in a press statement.

Citing the Feb.15 memo of the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) of the DENR regional office recommending the Pollution and Adjudication Board (PAB) to issue a cease-and-desist order to SMC to close its coal washing plant, Hicap said Secretary Atienza should recall the environmental and compliance certificate (ECC) it issued to Semirara mining company.

“The immediate task of DENR is to revoke the ECC of Semirara mining and order its urgent closure and later subject the entire coal plant to investigation and round-the-clock scrutiny. The EMB findings were clear—Semirara was disposing coal wastes into the creek and the sea poisoning the coastal areas and marine resources. This prima facie evidence is strong enough to merit the closure of Semirara mining within the next 24 hours,” the Pamalakaya leader said.

Hicap said the findings of EMB upheld the observations raised by environmental groups and fisherfolk associations in Semirara Island and nearby areas that the coal mining plant should be blamed for the massive siltation and mercury poisoning that has destroyed coastal and marine resources, including mangrove areas.

“But the problem is Secretary Atienza and Malacañang. They are not listening to the grassroots people affected by Semirara mining. Mr. Atienza and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo are just after the share in profits which Semirara gives to them in the form of taxes and duties. It is time to drop Semirara mining and quit from treating this company like a preferred mining client of the Palace,” said Pamalakaya.

The SMC has disputed the findings of University of the Philippines scientists showing toxic levels of mercury in areas on Semirara Island, asserting that its own studies had shown that mercury levels were within tolerable and safe levels.

According to scientists and researchers of UP Visayas soil samples taken from areas near the mining operations revealed that the mercury content reached “moderate toxicity level, however it remains safe to animals and humans.

The samples, which were studied at Research and Analytical Services Laboratory of the Natural Research Institute and the National Institute of Geological Sciences in UP Diliman, also showed high concentration of coal in the soil especially at the mouth of the Suja Creek in Barangay Semirara, one of the three villages of the 5,500 hectare island.

Meanwhile, Pamalakaya challenged Negros Occidental Rep. Ignacio “Iggy” Arroyo, chair of the House Committee on Environment and Natural Resources to conduct a congressional inquiry on the alleged poisoning of Semirara Mining Co. of the Suju creek and the company’s dumping of toxic wasters into the waters off Semirara Island, which the group said also spreads to other coastal areas of Antique and Iloilo provinces.

“Rep. Arroyo should stop acting like a white elephant lawmaker in the House of Representatives. As chair of the House committee on environment, he should address this issue with dispatch,” the group said.

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