Ban on Open-Pit Mining Stays

MANILA, Nov. 28 —

A view of the nearest community near Tampakan in South Cotabato.

A view of the nearest community near Tampakan in South Cotabato.

The Philippines will not reverse its ban on open-pit mining, despite a vote from an inter-agency panel and moves by a new environment secretary that sided with industry interests, President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman said Monday.

The Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) had voted to lift the ban, which was imposed months earlier by former Environment Secretary Regina Lopez and led to the closure of half of the country’s 41 operating mines.

But the Philippine Congress, which backers of mining interests allegedly dominate, declined to confirm Lopez’s appointment as secretary and removed her after she was in office for 10 months. She remains a strong Duterte supporter.

“I assure you that this is one of the instances when I personally asked the president if there’s been a change in policy and, he says, that there is still no new policy on this. There is still a ban on new open-pit mining,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.

However, it was not clear whether Duterte had received the recommendation of the MICC, Roque said, adding that he would further verify the government’s position.

Lopez’s successor, Roy Cimatu, had said he would soon issue an order restoring open-pit mining operations, but that all regulations would be strictly imposed. Cimatu co-chairs the Cabinet-level MICC with Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, a close aide of Duterte.

The ban on open-pit mining would hopefully be lifted by the end of the year, Cimatu had said.

Lopez had ordered the closure of 21 of 41 operating mines and the cancellation of dozens of contracts for undeveloped mines in February to protect water resources, after auditors discovered that the mines that had been ordered shut were found to be operating in watersheds, contributing to environmental degradation.

While environmentalist groups hailed the ban as a step in the right direction, mining advocates warned that it could lead to thousands of job losses and economic dislocation, especially in areas where mining is the only source of livelihood.

These areas include sites in the southern island of Mindanao that are prospective gold and copper mine sites with estimates reaching U.S. $5.9 billion.

The project sites, which an estimated area of 10,000 hectares (24,710 acres) straddling at least four municipalities in the south, are estimated to hold 15 million tons of copper and about 18 million ounces of gold, with mine production projected conservatively at U.S. $37 billion over the next two decades, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau said.

The Philippines is also a major nickel producer and in 2015 mined about 420,000 tons of nickel, the metal derived from nickel ore – about 20 percent of global supply. These were mostly shipped to other countries, led by China, which used them in making other semiconductor products.

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