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Miners warn: Rules change costly

Mining companies have asked the Supreme Court to dismiss petitions seeking to strike down Republic Act 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 over constitutional issues that the high tribunal has already resolved with finality in a landmark ruling in 2004. They said “there is a price to pay in changing the rules in the middle of the game.” Interviewed before the oral arguments held at the court’s summer session hall in Baguio City on Tuesday, lawyer Tito Lopez, counsel of Australian mining firm Oceana Gold that operates in Nueva Vizcaya, warned of massive repercussions to the national economy should the high court nullify the law and cancel all Financial and Technical Assistance Agreements and Mineral Production Sharing Agreements. “Can you imagine the possible impact of canceling the FTAA or MPSA? These foreign companies have already invested a lot in their explorations and actual operations and you will cancel their permits. Will that not discourage foreign investments?” he stressed. He said that one of the respondents in the case, has already invested in its operations—just like other foreign mining firms. Lopez also assailed the move of petitioners to seek relief from the high court in pushing for an equitable sharing of revenues. He said such call is already being addressed by the executive and legislative branches. On technical ground, the lawyer said the arguments of petitioners were already resolved by the high court in its Dec. 2004 ruling in the case of La Bugal-B’laan Tribal Association vs. Ramos administration. He said their case, in particular, was also already adjudged in 2006 where a division of the high court upheld the legality of their contract with the government. “All these claims had already been raised and passed upon by the honorable court in the earlier cases, where rulings were already declared final,” he stressed. One of the petitioners, Bayan Muna party-list Representative and senatorial bet Teddy Casiño admitted in a press conference before the oral argument yesterday that it would take a “flip-flopping” by the SC for them to win their case. Apart from Casiño, other petitioners in the case are Quezon  Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III and former Akbayan party-list Rep. and Liberal Party senatorial bet Risa Hontiveros. The respondents—including the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Hallmark Mining Corp. and Austral-Asia Link Mining Corp.—stood by the constitutionality of the assailed law during the hearing. Justice Marvic Leonen did not participate in the oral argument. He inhibited from the case since he served as legal counsel of La Bugal in the earlier case. In their petition filed in 2008, the group was joined by several persons affected by mining activities in Davao Oriental in filing the petition in asking the SC to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the law. The groups urged the Court to bar the DENR from acting on any application for MPSA, which covers 17,215.4474 hectares within the three municipalities of Mati, San Isidro and Governor Generoso, both in the Davao Oriental province. They also asked the SC to nullify the seven MPSAs that it had already reassigned to respondent mining firms. Petitioners argued that R.A. 7942 is unconstitutional arguing that it violates Article XII, Section 2 of the 1987 Constitution which provides that “all lands of public domain, waters, minerals, coal, petroleum and other mineral oils, all forces of potential energy, fisheries, forests, timber, wildlife, flora and fauna and other natural resources are owned by the State.”  
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