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PRRD hit for lifting mining moratorium

April 19, 2021

KORONADAL City — The local Catholic Church hosting Southeast Asia’s largest known undeveloped copper and gold minefield is saddened by the directive of President Rodrigo Duterte lifting the almost decades-old moratorium on mineral agreements in the country, a priest said Friday. Fr. Jerome Millan, Social Action Center director of the Diocese of Marbel, expressed apprehensions that Duterte’s Executive Order 130 could pave the way for Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI) to proceed with its mammoth $5.9 billion Tampakan project.      “(The order of President Duterte to lift the moratorium on new mineral agreements) is a very sad development for us who are working to stop the Tampakan project,” he told MindaNews on the phone.      EO 130, signed on April 14 but was made public the next day, lifted Section 4 of EO 79, which prohibits the granting of mineral agreements until a new legislation rationalizing existing revenue sharing schemes and mechanisms shall have taken effect. Former President Benigno Aquino III issued EO 79 in 2012.      In lifting the prohibition, Duterte noted that Republic Act 10963 or the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Act has doubled the rate of excise tax on minerals, mineral products and quarry resources from two percent to four percent.      “The government may (now) enter into new mineral agreements, subject to compliance with the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 and other applicable laws, rules and regulations,” the new EO 130 stated.      The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) may continue to grant and issue exploration permits under the existing laws, it added.      EO 130 also stated: “The DENR shall likewise undertake a review of existing mining contracts and agreements for possible renegotiation of the terms and conditions of the same, which shall in all cases be mutually acceptable to the government and the mining contractor.”      SMI executives did not return requests for comments on the new executive order.      Late last year, the Diocese of Marbel and environmental groups revived the Tampakan Forum, which was inactive for almost a decade, to intensify the opposition to the controversial Tampakan project “as things have been going in favor of SMI.”      Organizers cited the extension of the firm’s Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) and the restoration of its Environment Compliance Certificate (ECC).      MindaNews broke the stories on major developments in the Tampakan project in January and July last year. In January, it reported that SMI’s FTAA was extended for 12 years and in July, that the Office of the President restored SMI’s ECC, which then Environment Secretary Gina Lopez ordered cancelled in 2017. Lopez passed away in August 2019.      Set to expire on March 21, 2020, the 25-year FTAA awarded to the Tampakan Project, was extended for 12 years – or until March 21, 2032 — in an order issued June 8, 2016 but known only in January 2020, during an interview with Felizardo Gacad, Jr., Mines and Geosciences Bureau- Region 12 director.      In July 2020, Omar Saikol, Environmental Management Bureau – Region 12 director, said SMI’s ECC “was reinstated by the Office of the President on May 6, 2019.”      In September 2020, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples granted SMI the Certification Precondition (CP). CP is a certification that indigenous cultural communities have given their consent to the mining venture within their ancestral domain and that the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) process has been satisfactorily complied with by the company.      However, the ban on open-pit mining, which was approved by the South Cotabato provincial government in 2010, hampered the development of the Tampakan project.      Pro-mining groups have sought the lifting of the ban on open-pit mining, the method the company said is the most viable way to extract the massive deposits because they are just near the surface of the earth.      SMI also asserted that the open-pit mining method does not contravene Republic Act 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.      The Tampakan project has the potential of yielding per annum an average of 375,000 tons of copper and 360,000 ounces of gold in concentrate within the 17-year-life of the mine.      If developed, the Tampakan project “has the potential to make a significant contribution to the economic prosperity of the Philippines and enable a better future for the people of southern Mindanao,” SMI said on its website.

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Oca: QR code tracing won't steal bank info

April 15, 2021

CAGAYAN de Oro City Mayor Oscar Moreno assured the public Monday that the Quick Response (QR) Code-based coronavirus disease (Covid-19) contact tracing system will not expose the bank data of registered users, contrary to the claims of a local radio commentator. Moreno pointed out that the QR Code system, Higala App, does not even ask users for any information related to their bank accounts.      He said the contract tracing application is also equipped with data privacy protocols, adding that any claim of potential bank-related identity theft was "baseless and absurd".      "The statement (by a radio broadcaster) that the Higalaay (web portal in registering for QR code contact tracing) can tamper your bank accounts, that is (an) irresponsible commentary. We do our best to serve the people, and then you get these baseless commentaries)," he said.      Moreno, a banker and a lawyer by profession, pointed out that bank accounts are protected by the country's stringent bank secrecy laws.      Moreno said the local government is in the thick of dialogues with the business sector and other stakeholders on the QR code requirement, based on an ordinance passed in February this year.      The system is supposed to be implemented last month but ran into some technical problems, prompting the city government to extend the dry run until next month.      City residents and visitors can apply for the QR code through the Higalaa Web Portal, which is integrated into City Hall´s official website.      Moreno warned any unfounded claims on the contact tracing system could jeopardize the city's vaccination program. (PNA)

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DOT-10 holds assessment to revive Bukidnon's tourism industry

April 7, 2021

The Department of Tourism (DOT)-10 kicked off its three-day Bukidnon circuit assessment tour alongside various heads and representatives of partner-government line agencies to examine and revive the province's tourism industry after the disruption caused by coronavirus disease (COVID)-19 and aid in the promotion and development of areas in support of Executive Order (EO) 70 or the ‘Whole of Nation Approach’ in Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict (ELCAC).      “One of the reasons why we called all the agencies together is because DOT can’t do this alone, this is really a convergence project and we’d like you to observe what your agency can do for our communities as well,” DOT-10 Regional Director Marie Elaine Unchuan said.      Armed with sanitation kits, assessment papers, and the call of adventure, the participants visited seven key tourism sites on its first day ranging from cattle ranches, agroforestry farms, forest reserves, indigenous art galleries, to university coffee laboratories.      “This circuit has created awareness not only to DOT but to all other agencies, which are deeply involved in ending local communist armed conflict,” says Acting Chief of Engineering Service and Investigation Section Edd Michael Robril of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH)-10.      Through the promotion of such areas among regional heads and its representatives, Unchuan hopes to work hand in hand alongside the other agencies to utilize their department’s unique strengths and expertise in fully realizing their goal of making northern Mindanao the best tourist destination in the world and contribute in the development of communities and culture to end the scourge of local communist armed conflict. (VPSB/PIA10)

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CDO's new infectious disease center seen as Mindanao's 'RITM'

April 7, 2021

CAGAYAN de Oro City Mayor Oscar Moreno said Tuesday he hopes the new infectious disease center here would cater not only to Region 10 but would also be Mindanao's own Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM).      Moreno was referring to the Northern Mindanao Medical Center-Cagayan de Oro City-Center for Emerging and Reemerging Infectious Diseases (NMMC-CDO-CEREID), which will be turned over to the state-run NMMC on April 8.      While the facility was created to address the Covid-19 pandemic, Moreno said its long-term function would be as an infectious diseases hub for Mindanao, similar to Manila's RITM.      "It's a very ambitious dream, but hopefully, when this will be turned over (to NMMC), it will be a good launching pad for this dream (to happen)," Moreno said.      The NMMC-CDO-CEREID is a P46-million building furnished with medical equipment.      Situated in Barangay San Simon here, the two-level building has a floor area of 1,600 square meters within the 2.5-hectare lot area.      In an earlier interview with Dr. William Bernardo, chief of City Health Insurance Office (CHIO), who oversees the construction, he said the facility complied with the Department of Health (DOH) standards and is equipped with five wards that can house at least 75 patients.      The facility also has a Bio Safety Laboratory Level 2 section, which can test specimens for traces of Covid-19. He also said that even when the pandemic is over, the center can help address other cases of re-emerging diseases such as tuberculosis, among others.      "Since NMMC is considered an Apex hospital, and Cagayan de Oro is the regional center, it would be best that this facility would be put into good use," he said, referring to NMMC's important role in handling Covid-19 cases not only in the city but also to referred patients within Region 10.      Acting City Health Officer Dr. Lorraine Nery said that the facility can "diffuse" the Covid-19 surge, especially individuals who arrive from the National Capital Region.      "We don´t want a second wave or surge of Covid-19 cases if possible (similar to the National Capital Region), but we already have measures in place. Right now, we have fewer isolation units due to the decline in cases (but they remain on standby). And of course, more private hospitals increased their bed capacity to accommodate positive cases," Nery said.      NMMC liaison officer, Dr. Bernard Rocha, said they have protocols in place to deal with the surge, including dropping certain services to accommodate more Covid-19 patients.      "The CEREID facility in San Simon is perfect for us in terms of adding 72 beds which we can add more depending on what we receive. God forbid if a surge does occur, the public can be assured that the local health sector anticipated and is ready to handle it. We are monitoring the situation in NCR, and we never stopped preparing," he said. (PNA)

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Peace seen to drive economic potentials

April 5, 2021

COTABATO City – A leading civil executive in Southern Philippines has expressed the need for long-term stability in the region so that this may pave the way for investments in fields like trade and maritime development. This, according to lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo, spokesperson for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), in a recent video statement on Muslim Mindanao’s vast potentials for economic development.      Initial oil exploration works are ongoing “in the Sulu Sea and the Moro Gulf, as well as in the Liguasan Marsh,” said Sinarimbo, who concurrently serves as the BARMM’s Minister of the Interior and Local Government.      All three areas have been considered by multiple scientific sources as “resource-rich” in terms of maritime as well as mineral assets.      “These resources can actually be exploited and developed and become beneficial to the constituents of the region as well as the world,” he said.      He, however, added that “what we need is, of course, a stable peace and security in the region so that we can exploit all of these potentials.”      He said BARMM “sits strategically in the South China Sea and the Pacific through which a substantial volume of cargo passes through.”      These cargoes may come from nearby Australia and proceeding to China, he said, or China-made products finding their way to Europe.      Whatever the origin or destination and given the right infrastructure and policy support, he added, more of these goods should pass through the internationally-recognized Sibutu Strait off Tawi-Tawi.      Civil and military sources in 2019 estimated that the Sibutu Strait, which lies between the Sulu Archipelago and Indonesia’s Borneo, was host to some $51 billion worth of sea cargo every year.      “This can be exploited through the development of a logistics hub not just for this region but for the country. So this offers a lot of potentials,” Sinarimbo said.      A Bangsamoro Organic Law was signed into law in 2018 by President Duterte.      This effectively laid the ground for the rebuilding of institutional structures for civil governance.      Yet, the transition from war to peace has not been easy, given the demands of bureaucracy.      A source, who requested anonymity, said, “building the capability to effectively govern takes time. It is a tight balancing act given the challenges of pursuing equitable development in the region.”      To date, both Muslim and Christian leaders in the Congress, academe, Church, and grassroots organizations are united in calling for an extension of the transition period from the old to the new autonomous government.      Over a million signatures in support of the call have so far been gathered online.

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Electric coops log 2% sales growth in 2020

April 5, 2021

IN spite of the demand slump ignited by the Covid-19 pandemic, the country’s electric cooperatives (ECs) still managed to post 2.0-percent growth in their electricity sales last year, which was quite a feat in such scathing times of a crisis.      In data released by the Information Technology and Communication Services Department (ITCSD) of the National Electrification Administration (NEA), it was emphasized that the volume of electricity sold by the ECs hovered at 23,622 gigawatt-hours last year, compared to a relatively tamer 23,127 GWh in 2019.      Overall revenues of the power utilities, however, went down by 4.0-percent to P211.457 billion in 2020 versus a heftier P221.359 billion in the prior year.      “The 4.0-percent dip in total revenues of the ECs was due to measures implemented by the power utilities, such as extending the grace periods for bill payments,” NEA explained.      The agency further noted that sales outcome in the first quarter was still bullish with 3.0-percent growth; but there was precipitous slide in the second quarter because that was the period when the toughest pandemic-induced lockdowns were enforced in the country.      “Energy sales for the second quarter showed a 4.0-percent decline from 2019 due to the imposition of community quarantines to curb the spread of Covid-19 in the country,” the electrification agency pointed out.      Onward to third quarter last year, energy sales gained traction anew with 3.0-percent growth; while a brisk performance with 7.0-percent growth had been turned in by the ECs in the fourth quarter.      On the revenues, NEA indicated that first quarter top line had already been lower by 2.0-percent, primarily due to the impact of the Taal volcano eruption; and the initial disruption precipitated by the pandemic in the initial months.      The most severe hit on the revenues though happened in the second quarter with a double-digit drop of 12-percent; but that was somehow trimmed to 4.0percent in the third quarter.      In the last quarter, top line result for the ECs had been marginally up with 1.0-percent growth to P53.356 billion; as against P52.831 billion within comparative period in 2019.      Despite relatively dismal financial performance last year, the ECs noted that they still opted to extend payment extensions to ease off consumers’ cost burdens brought about by the health crisis. (MMV)

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