Environment secretary Toni Yulo-Loyzaga has stated that controversial mining company Ipilan Nickel Corporation (INC) operating in Brooke’s Point, Palawan is “technically compliant” with the department’s regulatory requirements.

Loyzaga made the commentary during an interview with Karen Davila of ANC 24/7 on Thursday where issues were raised on the alleged lack of legal permits by the company.

Loyzaga pointed out that the company has complied with all the national requirements to be allowed to operate, but acknowledged that it had not secured a local permit, which is also required.

“The way it works here is that there are national government processes that you need to comply with, and then you go downstream and you get the local. And the way the law is written is you need to get the mayor’s permit from where your head office is,” Yulo-Loyzaga said, adding it’s where they have a “situation.”

“Ipilan has no mayor’s permit locally, but they are nationally compliant with our procedures, and that is where the gaps are in the procedure,” Yulo-Loyzaga further explained as she admitted there are gaps everywhere, not just in mining.

Local residents of Brooke’s Point earlier organized mass actions against Ipilan Nickel, claiming the company to be destructive of their environment and citing its lack of a mayor’s permit to operate.

Loyzaga emphasized that all involved parties must negotiate and determine what must be done to resolve the disparities, as DENR is advocating for mining companies and permittee processes to establish local responsibility.

The DENR chief also addressed several concerns surrounding the mining firm, including its contract area overlapping with a protected area that prohibits mining, unauthorized tree cutting dating back to 2017, expired environmental compliance certificate (ECC), and operating without a certificate precondition (CP). Despite these issues, she pointed out that the responsibility for these problems falls on the previous administration, rather than the current one.

“Right now, we’re looking very closely at this, and we’re actually talking to the groups on the ground,” she said.

The DENR is attempting to rectify, according to Loyzaga, whether the form or procedure reflects the realities on the ground.

“If you do the technical review of whether they (Ipilan Nickel) complied with the process, they are compliant,” she stated.

Many prior mining rights, according to Yulo-Loyzaga, have now been nullified by protected area law, which they have documented. One of the first things they did was they established, with the approval of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the National Natural Resource Geospatial Data Base.

This data base enables them to map everything using satellites and validate on the ground, as well as superimposed the permits where overlaps exist.

She added that if prior rights were granted many years ago, then the law for the protected area was also approved.

“Then you have this situation where mining is going inside the legislated protected area. The law is you must recognize prior rights. It is the DENR’s job to reconcile and negotiate all of these conflicts and interests, and that’s not an easy job. No one has openly spoken about this, but we are because, in fact, this is the reality. Who has prior rights?” Loyzaga stated.

She mentioned that the DENR is currently informing mining companies about their presence within protected areas and the new terms of reference that apply to them. “How would you invest in the ecological integrity of this area as a protected area?”

Loyzaga reiterated that because Ipilan Nickel is legally in compliance with DENR’s national regulations and the regional office has validated this, they are investigating allegations of environmental violations to determine if a cease and desist order is deserved.

Despite the perception of deviation from the norm by some, DENR must follow the procedure, as Ipilan Nickel is currently in compliance with the regulations, she said.

She denied that she is lawyering for Ipilan Nickel, saying: “No. I’m lawyering for the state. The state has these laws in place, we must protect whatever the state’s interest is. Environmentally, if there are violations, definitely, I will act. That’s an evidentiary process. We need to establish the evidence in order to cite those violations.”