MANILA — The environment department said on Wednesday it has set up rules to protect nature after it lifted a four-year ban on new open-pit mines, a move it hoped would revitalize the country’s coronavirus-battered economy and slammed by activists as “short-sighted”.
This is the Philippine government’s attempt to reverse a 2017 ban, when Gina Lopez (then-environment secretary) blamed the sector with widespread ecological damage.
Manila has since reversed their course, encouraging mining investments in order to shore up government revenues.
“Pinag-aralan na natin kasi ‘yan. Tiningnan natin ‘yong mga argumento. Tiningnan natin kung anong mga kaunting kailangan nating ma-improve natin sa mining operations, methods,” said Environment Undersecretary Jonas Leones.
(We have studied it. We looked at the arguments, and the few things we should improve in mining operations.
“Ang mga issue kasi dati, mga environmental compliance, at sabi nila destructive. But sa nugayon, nakikita napin na we have already implemented mga policies to protect our environment. And then talagang naka-monitor na ‘yong compliance ng mga nagma-mining activity,” he said in a public briefing.
(The previous issue concerned environmental compliance. They say it’s dangerous. We have policies in place to protect the environment. The compliance of mining activities will also be monitored.
He said mines would be banned from expanding operations if they fail to rehabilitate the areas they “disturbed.” A technical working group will “regularly monitor” their compliance to laws, added the official.
“‘Pag nahuli natin sila na not complying strictly with our policy, environmental laws, and sa mga bago nating polisiya sa mining, talagang hindi tayo mangingimi na isarado natin ‘yan,” Leones said.
(If they don’t comply with our policy, our environmental laws, and our new mine policies, we won’t hesitate to close them.
In April, President Rodrigo Duterte lifted a nine-year ban on new mining agreements that he had previously threatened to close down the sector.
Video courtesy PTV
“We offered to mine the coal [industry]”As a potential contributor towards the recovery of economy,” WilfredoMoncano, director of MGB’s mines and geosciences Bureau (MGB), told AFP Wednesday.
“Once these products are commercially available… these are the ones that will help pay our loans to fight the pandemic.”
Moncano stated that 9 potential mining projects stand to gain from the order, and that the government could generate as much as P80 billion annually in taxes and royalties once commercial operations start.
Open pit mining extracts minerals directly from the ground, and is different to other methods that require tunneling underground or underground mining.
The Philippines is a major source of nickel ore in the world. It is also rich with copper and gold. However, the government estimates that 95 percent of its mineral reserves are still untapped.
According to government data, less than 1 % of GDP was contributed by mining revenues to the economy in 2013.
The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines applauded the lifting of the ban and stated that it would “enable the industry to contribute more towards our country’s economic recovery”.
Anti-mining advocates claimed that the government’s decision was short-sighted and ill-placed.
“Once more, the Duterte regime places more value to its flawed economic agenda categorizing destructive mining as an essential industry’ as a part of the pandemic recover,” the Alliance to End Mining stated in a statement.
— With a report from Agence France-Presse