MANILA, Philippines — The Duterte administration’s decision to lift a four-year-old ban on open-pit mining is a “short-sighted” policy reversal that may lead to further degradation of the environment, green groups said.
On December 23, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources lifted the nationwide ban on open-pit mining for copper, gold and other complex ores. The ban was imposed by Regina Lopez, an antimining advocate, who was leading the agency at the time. Her appointment was rejected by the congressional Commission on Appointments.
The lifting of the ban will be seen as a way to revive the mining industry and bring in more money after the economic slowdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
President Rodrigo Duterte lifted a nine year-old ban on new mining deals in April.
Alyansa Tigil Mina stated that the government had made the move because it was “shortsighted and misplaced as a development priority.”
“Once again, the Duterte regime puts more premium to its flawed economic agenda categorizing destructive mining as an ‘essential industry’ as part of the pandemic recovery,” the group said.
In a statement, the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines said that “open pit mines can be operated safely, according to globally accepted standards, and can be rehabilitated properly in a manner that provides alternative and productive land use after the life of the mine.”
Risk of contamination and destruction of watersheds
Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment stressed that open-pit mining is responsible for the devastation of watersheds in areas heavily affected by Typhoon Odette (Rai) such as Caraga, Negros island and the Central Visayas.
“Our poverty rates have increased over the past 26 year, while mining revenue has steadily increased.” We are left with areas like the Marcopper open pit mines, forever scarred and polluted, unfit for human life,” Kalikasan-PNE said.
In 1996, a drainage tunnel in Marcopper Mining Corporation’s Taipan pit in Marinduque burst, flooding villages and killing aquatic life.
Proponents must ensure that surface mining does not pose health and safety hazards and does not release dangerous chemicals into the atmosphere, according to the new department order.
According to environmental groups, the government’s reversals in mining policy should cause environmentalists a lot of grief. They should encourage more environmentalists to get involved in the next elections “to support the reinstatement or the moratorium on new mining projects” and “to advocate the reinstatement or the suspension of open pit mining ban.” — With report from The STAR/Catherine Talavera