Miners optimistic as new environment chief gets confirmed

Enrico Dela Cruz and Manolo Serapio Jr, Reuters

Posted at Oct 04 2017 04:48 PM | Updated as of Oct 04 2017 05:27 PM

MANILA - Philippine lawmakers confirmed Roy Cimatu as Environment Secretary, giving the former soldier the task of deciding whether to implement reforms spearheaded by predecessor Gina Lopez that led to mine closures - but cost her the job.

A 71-year-old ex-military chief, Cimatu was picked for the post by President Rodrigo Duterte in May, after environmentalist Lopez failed to win Congressional confirmation. Lopez had ordered 26 of 41 mines in the world's top nickel ore supplier be shut or suspended to protect water resources.

Miners welcomed Cimatu's confirmation on Wednesday, saying they're ready to work with him to support the mining industry. Shares of top nickel ore exporter Nickel Asia Corp jumped nearly 3 percent.

Cimatu said after the confirmation that he would "pursue programs and projects that would truly protect the environment and improve people's lives." But apart from supporting a ban on open-pit mining imposed by Lopez - and backed by Duterte - it remains unclear what Cimatu's plans are for the sector, with the mine closures still under study.

Cimatu won an "overwhelming yes vote" from members of the Commission on Appointments, said Senator Manny Pacquiao, head of the environment committee that held the confirmation hearings.

"We welcome his fresh perspective on various environmental issues," said Juan Miguel Zubiri, a Commission member.

A former military comptroller, Cimatu was a regional brigade commander in the 1990s when Duterte was mayor and played a key role in his 2016 presidential election campaign. Cimatu also served as his liaison for issues involving Filipino workers overseas.

Cimatu told Reuters in May it was possible to strike a balance between allowing mining and protecting natural resources.

Ronald Recidoro, executive director of the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, told Reuters, "We are optimistic that we have a secretary who will base his decisions on evidence and facts and will take a more reasoned, more rational approach towards regulating the large-scale metallic mining industry."

Meanwhile Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella expressed confidence that Cimatu could implement Duterte's "marching orders" on "keeping a delicate balance between economic development and environmental sustainability".

Separately, Lopez has also thrown her support behind Cimatu.

"I truly am convinced that if we nurture and protect the environment in a way that everyone benefits, we can rid the country of poverty...and even bring on peace," Lopez said in a text message.