Cimatu bares DENR's investor-friendly initiatives

Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu has assured foreign investors that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) will continue to push for clean and green energy, promote proper management of water resources and solid waste, and ensure responsible mining.

Speaking at the gathering of the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP) on Thursday in Makati City, Cimatu also said that the DENR remains committed to its role in facilitating the ease of obtaining environmental clearances for investors.

Cimatu gladly told ECCP members that the DENR has recently introduced some improvements in the implementation of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIA) system, as well as in the processing and issuance of tree cutting permits for development projects.

"One, we have provided facilities for on-line application for environmental compliance certificate to shorten the process," Cimatu said.

He added: "Two, authority to issue cutting permits of planted trees has been delegated to the regional office. Further delegation to the PENRO (Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office) and CENRO (Community Environment and Natural Resources Office) is being considered."

The environment chief disclosed that the streamlining of issuance of water permit is also being undertaken.

In pushing for clean and green energy, Cimatu said the DENR fully supports the Department of Energy in the implementation of Republic Act No. 9513, or the Renewable Energy Act of 2008.

Cimatu said the agency has been actively promoting the deployment of clean and green energy sources through the implementation of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and the recently signed Joint Credit Mechanism (JCM) between the Philippines and Japan.

CDM is a financial mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol which enables developed countries, such as ECCP member countries, to implement cost-effective emission reduction projects in developing countries.

By virtue of Executive Order No. 320, the DENR has been designated as the national authority for CDM, with its Environmental Management Bureau as the secretariat.

So far, there are a total of 119 CDM project applications received, of which 70 projects have been successfully registered comprising of 21 large-scale and 49 small-scale projects. Most of these are renewable energy initiatives.

Meanwhile, JCM is a low carbon growth partnership between Japan and the Philippines. It facilitates greenhouse gas emission reductions or removals through projects implemented by companies or cities from the partner countries.

JCM is expected to promote the transfer and use of clean and green technology. Potential projects under the mechanism are in the areas of renewable energy, energy efficiency and waste handling and disposal.

Cimatu said the DENR is working hard to address the issue of landfills and dumpsites by promoting the use of waste-to-energy (WTE) or the process of generating energy in the form of electricity or heat from the primary treatment of waste.

"WTE technologies and projects are starting to gain momentum in the Philippines. There are now quite a number of projects making use of WTE technologies," Cimatu said.

He cited three WTE projects in the country that are supported by European countries: The Quezon City Controlled Disposal Facility Biogas Emission Reduction Project supported by Switzerland and Italy; the Montalban Landfill Methane Recovery and Power Generation Project by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; and the Cebu City Landfill Gas and Waste to Energy project by Spain.

Cimatu also noted ongoing efforts to improve the management of the country's water resources.

He revealed that water resources assessment is being conducted in water constraint areas and major river basins in order to come up with more informed and science-based policies and plans for systematic water resource allocation and development for various purposes.

To ensure the protection and orderly development of the country's water resources, Cimatu said the National Water Resources Board continuously formulates and implements appropriate water policies.

As regards ensuring responsible mining, Cimatu said the DENR will continue to "strictly enforce mining and environmental regulations, and mining operations found violating laws, rules and regulations shall be subject to penalties, suspensions and/or cancellation."

"Mining in the Philippines can only be responsible if the development of the country’s mineral resources will be on the basis of technical feasibility, environmental sustainability, cultural and social acceptability and financial viability. The absence of one will not render the project responsible," Cimatu pointed out. ### 

Cimatu forms task force to address mercury poisoning in 2 Palawan villages

Secretary Roy A. Cimatu has ordered the creation of a task force within the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to tackle the reported mercury poisoning among residents of two villages near an abandoned mine site in Puerto Princesa City.

Cimatu assured that the DENR would "act with resolve and urgency" in making sure that the contamination from the mine previously operated by Palawan Quicksilver Mines Inc. (PQMI) will be addressed accordingly.

It was earlier reported that several residents of barangays Santa Lourdes and Tagburos in the Palawan capital have been exposed to mercury, a highly toxic substance that poses threats to human health and the environment.

Cimatu said he would consult and coordinate with experts within the DENR and from other agencies to ensure public safety amid the reported mercury poisoning.

"While the findings may still be inconclusive, our priority is to protect the community and the environment from the hazards of mercury," he said.

Aside from the formation of a DENR task force, the DENR chief also ordered the containment of the affected areas, particularly the pit lake by completing the perimeter fence to prevent residents from fishing thereat.

He also directed the Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau to undertake research on scientific interventions to rehabilitate the affected area, as well as the department’s legal service to study the accountability of PQMI.

The contamination was discovered after the regional office of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) in Mimaropa conducted three aquatic biota and sediment samplings within the pit lake and at the Honda Bay area in 2016 after noting that there were people fishing in the lake.

High levels of mercury were found in the fishes gathered from the mine's "lake pit," prompting the MGB to seek help from the Department of Health (DOH) in assessing the health condition of affected residents.

The DOH then conducted random testing on 104 residents from the two barangays. They tested positive for mercury in their blood and hair, and exhibited symptoms of contamination in neurological and physical assessments.

Traces of mercury were also found in fish and shellfish around the wharf area in Santa Lourdes, a takeoff point for Honda Bay island hoppers.

Cimatu said the task force will be composed of experts from various DENR bureaus, as well as representatives from the legal service of the central office, DENR Mimaropa office, and the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development, an attached agency of the DENR.

He said the primary duties of "Task Force Mercury" are to "isolate and contain the contaminated area, know the people who can possibly be treated by the DOH, and run after the mining company to make them liable."

The findings and outputs of the task force will be submitted to a multi-agency group to be formed later, he added.

According to MGB-Mimaropa Regional Director Roland de Jesus, PQMI started its operations in the area in the mid 1950s prior to the passage of the New Philippine Mining Act of 1995.

At the time, the environmental and social impacts of mining had not yet been included in the law, he pointed out.

PQMI used open pit mining to extract cinnabar ore, a toxic mineral composed of mercuric sulfide or HgS and whose deposits in the country can only be found in Barangay Santa Lourdes.

The mercury hazard was attributed to exposed mine tailings in a three-hectare pit that was filled over time with rainwater. This “lake pit” has affected Tagburos River, which in turn flows into nearby Honda Bay, an ecotourism destination famous for island hopping activities.

The company had ceased operations sometime in 1976 after suffering losses from a drop in cinnabar prices. They, however, had been able to ship almost 3,000 tons of HgS to Japan.

The Philippines is party to the Minamata Convention, a globally binding instrument regulating the use of mercury among members. The Convention was so named after an incident in Minamata, Japan, where people contracted the Minamata disease after consuming fish and shellfish contaminated by mercury from wastewater discharged by the Chisso Corporation.

Mercury is a highly toxic metallic element that can damage the brain, lungs, kidneys and heart, and cause irreversible neurological damage that can lead to decreased intelligence and increased violent behaviour. It can also lead to paralysis, coma, and even death. ### 

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