The local government of Palawan issued a 25-year moratorium on issuance of large and small scale mining permit amid reported violation on mining regulations
Palawan Gov. Joel T. Reyes signed last Nov. 25 Resolution No. 7728-08, which declared the moratorium upon approval of the provincial legislative board.
In a statement, the Palawan provincial office said, “The resolution declares the firm resolve of the provincial board to oppose at any time any new large scale mining application or to press for nullification of any existing mineral agreements and cessation of their mining operations.”
Gov. Reyes signed the resolution during the province's ceremonial lighting of Christmas trees. He said the mining ban is "a special gift to all Palaweños including the environmentalists and anti-mining advocates."
The Palawan provincial government issued the ban on the defense that mining is “incompatible” with the Strategic Environmental Plan for Palawan.
Palawan is considered as the Philippines' "Last Frontier" and its local leaders are known staunch advocates of environmental causes and have been vocal against mining activities in the region.
The island region sits on rich mineral deposits, including nickel and copper.
The mining ban does not affect decade-old mining operations of Filipino-Japanese consortium in Rio Tuba, southern Palawan, but would impact plans of listed firm Oriental Peninsula, which announced that it is set to operate nickel mining sites in two towns mid-west of the island province. Oriental Peninsula is in a bitter legal war with another claimant of the mining sites and is also seeking thumbs up of the local government.
The ban will hit small scale miners that have yet to obtain a mining permit direct from the provincial government.
Large scale miners, too, need to obtain the endorsement of local government and the local stakeholder-led Palawan Sustainable Development Council to finalize their mining permits, which can come in the form of Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (60-40 venture between Filipino and foreign entity) and Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (full foreign ownership allowed).
Contrary to national law
Mining bans have been considered a contrary rule to the Philippine Mining Act, which has been affirmed in 2004 by the Supreme Court as constitutional.
A Department of Justice opinion released earlier also declared the sovereignty of the mining law against provincial resolutions.
However, even the national government has earlier been considering a mining ban against small scale mining operations.
Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) Director Horacio C. Ramos said the MGB and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) have been discussing with the League of Municipalities and League of Provincial government for certain potential prohibitions on small scale mining.
“There are small scale mining operations like on nickel and iron that cannot become viable,” he said, explaining certain large companies had rather used small scale mining permits but were operating on a large scale.
Moreover, he said MGB-DENR will evaluate the issuance of the mining ban in Palawan.
MGB and DENR have earlier been contemplating on a ban on the issuance of new mining permits for small scale operations since large scale mining operations have been questioned for obtaining several small scale mining permits first despite intentions to operate on a large scale.
Small scale mines are allowed to extract only up to 50,000 metric tons of ore yearly, but most operations have exceeded this limit.
A permit for small scale mining is obtained from the provincial government and is normally easy to obtain, although several of such permit issuances have been rocked by charges on corruption and favors granted by provincial governments to certain groups.
Ramos said DENR’s concern is that small scale mines are not required to implement certain programs that are normally imposed on large scale mines. Among these are the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Program (EPEP) and Mine Rehabilitation Program (MRP).
“(There is a danger) that the environment may suffer,” he said in an interview.
Rampant use of small scale mining permits by large scale companies have been observed in Palawan and Zambales.
As much as one-third of the Philippines’ total land area of 300 million hectares holds potentials for mining. MGB data showed that the Philippines has established reserves of about 13 metallic and 29 nonmetallic minerals. It ranks third in the world in terms of gold deposits, fourth in copper, fifth in nickel, and sixth in chromite deposits.
But the mining industry in the country is frought with sins of the past, ranging from environmental degradation, human rights violations, and a continuing debate on revenue sharing between the host local government and the state. These have prompted local governments, like Palawan's, to put their foot down when they could.