Second of 4 parts
THE Bureau of Customs ordered Monday the seizure of a vessel and its cargo of 50,000 metric tons of nickel ore that the Chinese company Yinglong was shipping out of the country from Zambales.
Deputy executive secretary for legal affairs (Desla) Anna Liza Logan had on December 23 lifted a cease-and-desist order issued in March and April last year by the environment and natural resources department’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) to Yinglong to stop its nickel-ore mining operations.
However, another line agency of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Environment Management Bureau (EMB), issued to Yinglong an export permit for the nickel ore on December 29.
Two DENR secretaries through another agency (the Mines and Geosciences Bureau) in January recalled the export permit, as Yinglong was found to have been mining nickel ore illegally and did not have the required environmental compliance certificate. Despite the lack of an export permit, Yinglong loaded 50,000 metric tons of the laterite nickel ore, estimated to be worth P250 million, on the freight vessel MN Van Knight.
Alerted by the DENR of Yinglong’s attempt to evade its orders and ship out the nickel ore illegally, the Bureau of Customs’ Port of Manila collector Michael Angelo Vargas the other day ordered the vessel and its contents seized, and asked the Philippine Coast Guard to assist in the execution of its orders.
As I reported in detail in my Monday column, this chaotic situation of one DENR agency ordering Yinglong to stop its allegedly illegal mining operations and another allowing it to continue is apparently the result of huge bribes that Yinglong — by its own admission — had given to the department’s officials in 2021 to get their cooperation.
However, one official who had accepted Yinglong’s P3 million bribe (out of a promised P10 million) reneged in helping the firm get its permits after Yinglong failed to deliver the remaining P7 million. The DENR’s MGB had issued two orders last year for Yinglong to stop its operations. Yinglong simply ignored the orders, with the local governments of the province backing it.
What has made this case a huge issue for the DENR and one that could even rock the presidency, is the issuance by the deputy executive secretary for legal affairs — Logan — of an obviously rushed order two days before Christmas, lifting the DENR’s cease and desist order against Yinglong. This had never happened before, that a deputy executive secretary countermands an order of an executive department. Did she issue the order in the spirit of kindness during the Christmas season?
Desla Logan is known to be close to the first lady, Liza Araneta-Marcos, having been with her former law firm MOST for 14 years until the latter asked her to join the government as Desla, the most important deputy of Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin. The big question bugging DENR officials is whether or not Logan asked her (Mrs. Marcos) permission to issue the order favoring the erring Chinese firm.
The Desla’s order could have given Yinglong the freedom to export the nickel ore it had mined and stockpiled. Sources claim that Yinglong had also bought the nickel ore mined by other miners, including the small-scale ones, and was ready to ship these out, disguised as their own mined nickel.
Yinglong representatives have been telling local government officials and other miners that “Malacañang had given us the authority to export.” If Yinglong had managed to export the 250,000 MT it was given the permit to export by the EMB’s Region 3 office, this would have generated for it — at laterite nickel ore’s current $100 per metric ton price — P1.3 billion. Because of the high stakes involved, rumors have been circulating that Yinglong allegedly had already given P100 million in bribes to government officials for its nickel mining operations to continue and for it to be allowed to ship the ore.
The huge revenues the Chinese firm would have generated from its mining operations — due to the recent rocketing of nickel prices in the world because of Russia’s war against Ukraine — is the reason why it bought rights to the nickel mining area from Filipino firm Westchinamin in 2021 for P1 billion.
However, Westchinamin has filed several pleas to the DENR to stop Yinglong’s operations as it had remitted only P47 million to it, giving it checks that were dishonored by its bank. The chairman and president of Westchinamin is Antonio Marfori, who is the finance officer of Partido Federal ng Pilipinas, under whose party registration President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. ran in 2022.
Malacañang has kept mum concerning this issue that I reported last Monday. Cheloy Garafil of the Presidential Communications Office, however, said that Executive Secretary Bersamin was “looking at it, as a matter of procedure.”
Third part on Friday, Jan. 20, 2023.
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