Philippines Keeps Ban on Open Pit Mining in Face of Pressure From Mining Industry

November 23, 2017 Updated: November 23, 2017    

MANILA–The Philippine environment minister said on Wednesday, Nov. 22, that a ban on new open pit mining in the country would remain in place, with President Rodrigo Duterte rejecting government panel recommendations to reverse it.

The ban, implemented by former environment minister Regina Lopez from April covers new projects including the $5.9-billion copper-gold Tampakan project in southern Mindanao island, the biggest stalled mining venture in the Southeast Asian nation.

Miners wash themselves down next to an abandoned mine tunnel at the village of Mt. Diwata in the Compostela Valley on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, July 17, 2012. In 2012, then President Benigno Aquino announced mining reforms that his government said would better regulate a chaotic industry, improve environmental standards and deliver a bigger share of revenues to state coffers. Part of the planned reforms would ensure more strict government supervision of places such as Mount Diwata, a product of a unique Philippine law dating back decades that allows individual miners to set up their own operations. (Ted Aljibe/AFP/GettyImages)
This photo taken shows residents getting their hair cut at an improvised barber shop at the village of Mt. Diwata, in the town of Monkayo in the Compostela Valley, on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao on July 17, 2012. Mt. Diwata or “Diwalwal” as it is commonly known, lies 70 kilometers north of the trading city of Davao, and accessible only via motorcycle. In the 1980’s it was a logging area, but the discovery of gold by a tribesman turned it into a gold rush site, which drew labourers, farm workers, ex-soldiers and former guerrillas from all over the country, all seeking to get rich. The Philippines is believed to have some of the biggest mineral reserves in the world — the government estimates the country has at least 840 billion USD in gold, copper, nickel, chromite, manganese, silver and iron ore deposits, but the minerals have been largely untapped, partly because of a strong anti-mining movement led by the influential Catholic Church. (Ted Aljibe/AFP/GettyImages)

“The President sets the policy. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources will implement what the President deems as best for the country’s interest,” Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Roy Cimatu told Reuters in a text message.

Open pit mining is allowed under the laws of the Southeast Asian country, the world’s top nickel ore exporter, where many mines use it to extract minerals. But Lopez said the process ruins the economic potential of places where it is carried out.

An open-pit gold-silver mine run by Canada’s TVI Pacific sits on the top of Canatuan mountain in the southern Philippines, 13 May 2006. The Canatuan mine is one of only eight new mining operations that have reached the production stage in the Philippines since it passed a Mining Act in 1995. Foreign miners are hoping the Philippines government will stand by them and their investments here in any face-off with the hugely powerful Roman Catholic church which opposes mining. (Jay Directo/AFP/Getty Images)

Duterte said late on Tuesday that he had rejected a recommendation by the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) to lift the ban because such mining is “destroying the soil and environment and no corrective measure is immediately (being) implemented.”

He added that while mining brings “good profit,” he “can let it go.”

A gold miner tests the weight of a sack full of raw ore before carrying it to a processing station on the surface, on April 22, 2014 in Pinut-An, Philippines. Gold mining is the primary source of income for residents of Pinut-An, surpassing fishing as the leading form of employment. In 2014, an average gold miner earned roughly $180 per month for working seven days a week, while the mine owner expected to earn up to ten times that amount. (Luc Forsyth/Getty Images)
Mill workers move buckets of crushed ore before washing it and adding liquid mercury in order to separate the gold particles from the valueless rock, on April 23, 2014 in Pinut-An, Philippines. (Luc Forsyth/Getty Images)

The comments by the firebrand leader followed an announcement on Monday by his spokesman that Duterte had not reversed the ban.

The MICC, an inter-agency panel that makes recommendations on mining policy, is chaired by Cimatu and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez.

Cimatu said last month that he supported the removal of the open pit ban and that his agency would strengthen regulations to prevent any excesses by miners.

The ban would further halt development of the Tampakan project in the southern South Cotabato province. The project was first stopped after South Cotabato banned open-pit mining in 2010, and operator Glencore Plc quit the project five years later.

Lopez, who stepped down in May after failing to win congressional confirmation after 10 months in office, has said the project would cover an area the size of 700 soccer fields in what otherwise would be agricultural land.

Also covered by the ban is the $1.2 billion Silangan copper and gold mine in Mindanao by Philippine miner Philex Mining Corp.

Filipino miners make their way out after their work in the mine tunnel of Philex Mining Corp., in Padcal, northern Benguet province, 27 May 2006. Mineralogists, geologists, mining engineers and experts in related fields have become the star targets of headhunting firms as foreign investors pour into the Southeast Asian country’s resources sector. (Romeo Gacad/AFP/Getty Images)

By Manolo Serapio Jr