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3 mining firms halt operations in Agusan del Norte

Three small-scale mining firms temporarily halted mining and quarrying operations in Tubay, Agusan del Norte starting Monday, laying off some 1,200 workers. Owners of the three mining firms – San R Construction, Galeo Equipment and Construction Corp., and S.R. Metals Inc. – decided to stop operations “indefinitely" until their applications for large scale mining permits are approved by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). In an interview with GMANews.TV, Ryan Anthony Culima, spokesperson of S.R. Metals Inc. – mother company of the three mining firms – cited delays in the issuance of large scale mining permits for the three mining firms as the main reason behind the closure. With the temporary closure of the mines, Culima said 1,200 local workers will be temporarily out of job while the local government will lose some P20 million in revenues from the mining firms’ operations. "We have already complied requirements (for large-scale mining operations) since March this year, which is the reason why the EMB issued us an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) as early as April 2007," Culima said. Despite the issuance of the ECC, however, Culima said DENR Secretary Jose "Lito" Atienza has not approved the firms’ applications to start large-scale mining operations. Religious and militant groups in Butuan City have opposed the three firms’ nickel mining and quarrying operations saying these mining companies have violated laws by operating on a large scale even when they are only allowed for small-scale mining. In November last year, the DENR issued a cease and desist order against the mining firms for allegedly shipping more than the allowed annual limit. The three firms were granted approval to operate small-scale mining operations in Agusan del Norte in October 2005 by the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board. In April 2006, an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) was issued for the three firms’ mining operations. To date, the nickel mining and quarrying operations in the Tubay nickel mines have registered some $73 million in gross sales from nickel ores shipped to China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, the firms’ mother company stated. The mines have also paid some P30 million in taxes to the municipality of Tubay and the Agusan del Norte provincial government. - Alvin Guanzon, GMANews.TV