Environment chief says ban on open-pit mining to stay

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 31 2017 12:31 PM | Updated as of Jul 31 2017 07:19 PM

FILE PHOTO: A view of nickel ore stockpiles at a port in Sta Cruz Zambales in northern Philippines February 8, 2017. Erik De Castro, Reuters

MANILA - (UPDATE 2) Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu said on Monday he would not lift a ban on open-pit mining imposed in April in an anti-pollution crackdown, as an inter-agency mining council reviews how miners are taxed in the Philippines.

Cimatu, a former general, was appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte in May after Duterte's previous choice as environment minister, firebrand Gina Lopez, failed to secure congressional confirmation after a drive to implement radical environment protection measures that raised mining industry hackles.

"There is a department order on the ban on open pit mining issued by Secretary Lopez," Cimatu told a news conference. "It still stays."

Staunch environmentalist Lopez led a 10-month campaign to rein in the mining industry, ordering the closure or suspension of 26 mines in the world's top nickel ore supplier and imposing a ban on open-pit mining.

The fate of those mines remained uncertain, with Cimatu taking a more measured approach since taking office. He told reporters on Monday he was in no rush to make a decision on whether to maintain, modify, or reverse his predecessor's orders.

"I don't want to put pressure on my people," Cimatu said. "No need to rush. We have to review voluminous documents. I need to look at all the evidence that the companies gave us."

Cimatu is also keeping his predecessor’s policy against mining in proclaimed watersheds. 

“Definitely no mining in watersheds.”

But Cimatu also said there was a problem with some mining contracts which predated the proclamation of these mining sites as watersheds. 

“This is the problem- the proclamation of watershed came later na, andyan na ang mining." 

The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, meanwhile, said it hoped that the issue on open pit mining will be resolved soon.

“The open pit ban is a serious policy decision that needs to be studied carefully, with due consideration of all impacts and the interests of all stakeholders," the mining group's vice president Atty. Ronald Recidoro said in a statement on Monday.

"We only hope the matter will be resolved soon to address the uncertainty currently pervading in the industry,” Recidoro said. 

Following the Cimatu's remarks, the Philippines' mining and oil subindex closed 0.47 percent lower, reversing early gains.

Duterte said last week he wanted to stop exporting unprocessed mineral resources and warned miners in the world's top nickel ore supplier he would impose more taxes on the industry to raise money to help communities hurt by their operations.

Cimatu said both proposals were being discussed in the mining council.

Shipment of metallic mineral resources from the Philippines continues despite the tough business environment and uncertain future that miners are facing, as well as a seasonal drop in local output due to unfavorable weather.

Nickel ore output in the Philippines fell 51 percent in the first quarter due to rains and the suspension of mine operations, according to the latest government data available. -- with reports from Reuters and Vivienne Gulla, ABS-CBN News