DENR sues Ipilan Nickel for illegal tree cutting; mining firm faces fresh probe over unlawful road construction

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on Friday filed with the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor of Palawan a criminal complaint against Ipilan Nickel Corp. (INC) over its massive indiscriminate tree cutting in Brooke's Point town.

This developed as the DENR is looking into yet another violation by the INC, this time in connection with the illegal construction of a mine yard road within its mining area.

In its complaint filed through Brooke's Point Community Environment and Natural Resources Officer Conrado Corpuz, the DENR accused INC of felling some 677 trees, most of which are hardwood species, in an area not covered by the tree cutting permit the company secured last year.

This is a clear violation of Section 77 of Presidential Decree No. 705, or the Forestry Code of the Philippines, according to the DENR.

The case involves a 1.7 hectare area out of the 24-hectare forest cleared by INC in Barangay Maasin, which the DENR claimed was undoubtedly outside the firm's tree cutting permit.

In May 2016, the DENR issued a one-year special tree cutting permit to INC as part of its mineral production sharing agreement (MPSA) with the agency. However, on Dec. 16, 2016, then Secretary Gina Lopez cancelled the company's environmental compliance certificate (ECC), rendering its tree cutting permit invalid.

But the INC insists that the tree cutting permit remains valid since it had filed a motion for reconsideration on the cancellation of its ECC.

"Granting without admitting that INC's tree cutting permit was valid, the DENR has a strong case against the company on the 1.7-hectare cleared area," DENR Mimaropa Regional Director Natividad Bernardino asserted.

Corpuz said the case they filed on Friday was "just the first in a series of cases against the INC."

He disclosed that the DENR will also file other charges against the mining company once the inventory of the trees cut in the remaining 22.3 hectares is completed.

The onset of the rainy season and the huge number of felled trees has slowed down the retrieval and inventory of trees, Corpuz explained.

For his part, Palawan Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer Felizardo Cayatoc said the filing of complaint against INC was based on the instruction of DENR Secretary Roy A. Cimatu to "not let INC off the hook."

"INC is criminally liable and Secretary Cimatu wants to ensure that irresponsible miners do not get around the law," Cayatoc pointed out.

In filing the case against the INC, the DENR was taking a cue from President Rodrigo Duterte, who, on July 12 stated that mining companies must make up for the destructive impact of their operations on the livelihood of farmers and fishpond owners.

Meanwhile, a composite team of technical and legal personnel from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, Environmental Management Bureau, Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) and the local government of Brooke's Point was already sent to the Ipilan mine area to conduct an ocular inspection.

This was in response to reports that the INC has recently constructed a mine yard road without clearance from the DENR and despite the cancellation of its ECC last December.

Earlier in May, no less than Secretary Cimatu served the show cause order to INC over the massive indiscriminate tree cutting within its MPSA area.

Based on initial reports, the INC cut down some 7,000 trees, majority of them are premium native species, such as malabayabas, apitong-baboy, nato and agoho.

Last Wednesday, a team led by DENR Mimaropa Assistant Regional Director for Technical Services Dr. Vicente Tuddao Jr. visited the INC mine site to verify the reports about the illegal road construction and assess the extent of soil erosion and siltation, which resulted from forest denudation caused by INC's massive illegal cutting activities.

Aside from this, Brooke's Point Mayor Jean Feliciano is also batting to revoke the Strategic Environmental Plan clearance issued by PCSD to INC. ###