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Test case on new high court rule for environment issues filed in Surigao City

Surigao City - An environmental case was filed here Tuesday, June 22 under new rules approved by the Supreme Court that took effect last April.

The Anislagan Bantay Kalikasan Task Force (ABAKATAF), aided by the Legal Rights Center-Kasama sa Kalikasan (LRC-KsK), filed an injunction "mandamus" class suit against Manila Mining Corp. (MMC), Kalayaan Copper Gold Resources, Silangan Mindanao Mining, Inc., and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Caraga Region.

The complaint will put to test the Supreme Court-promulgated writ of kalikasan (environment), a restraining order on environmental projects.

Included in the new rules is the classification of the criminal cases filed against environmental activists as suits called SLAPP, short for Strategic Legal Action Against Public Participation.

"The mandamus class suit is actually just asking the proper institutions to do what they are supposed to do and to follow the law," said Ma. Zherwinah B. Mosqueda, LRC-Ksk Cagayan de Oro team leader.

"Our Constitution stipulates our right to a healthful and balanced ecology. The DENR should do what it is supposed to do -- protect our environment," she said.

Lawyer Mae R. Pasinabao-Galong, legal counsel of LRC-KsK, added that instead of fast-tracking mining permits, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) should first protect the environment.

"[The DENR’s] first mandate is to protect it," she said. "But [it is] also authorizing permits that would destroy the environment."

The MGB’s Caraga regional office did not comment on the issue, with regional officials saying that the appropriate personnel still need to study the case, a copy of which was provided to them yesterday by leaders of the LRC-KsK.

The DENR regional director was out of town and representatives of the three companies could not be contacted for comment.

In its 14-page complaint, ABAKATAF said the DENR has issued permits to the mining companies despite opposition from the community.

The protesters said they feared that mining activities will affect their farms and will adversely affect Anislagan’s forest areas and water sources.

MMC expressed its intent to conduct mining exploration in the area on Sept. 26, 2000.

Despite the opposition, the local government unit and its constituents were dismayed upon learning that the DENR through the MGB has issued a temporary exploratory permit to MMC on Dec. 29 of the same year.

In 2001, the municipal council of Placer passed an ordinance that would protect the watershed and communal forest in the whole municipality.

Backing the ordinances, Anislagan also approved a village resolution declaring the local watershed as a protected area. -- Louise G. Dumas and Leonardo B. Corrales, Business World

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