The clouds building up over the Philippines mining industry continue to darken with new President Rodrigo Duterte stating this week that the country can survive without revenue from mining companies. He has warned mining companies to strictly follow environmental rules and regulations or face closure.
Mining companies contribute about P40 billion a year to government accounts, but the President declared that he was willing to forego the revenue if they do not shape up. “You obey or we will survive as a nation without you.
“I can forego the P40 billion I collect from you guys and the Filipinos will survive without you. Either you follow strictly government standards or you close down,” he said.
The new government has so far suspended the operations of seven domestic nickel mines for failure to comply with environmental regulations, a move that has seen global nickel prices increase to annual highs.
The Philippines is the biggest supplier of nickel ore to China, taking over from Indonesia after that country banned shipments of unprocessed mineral ore in 2014.
The government crackdown coincides with the appointment of environmental campaigner Gina Lopez as environment secretary, a position which puts her in charge of mining operations for the government. After beginning an audit of all mining sites on July 8, the minister has vowed to close more mining operations as public complaints mount against those causing environmental destruction.
A total of six mining firms have been suspended since Minister Lopez assumed office – BenguetCorp Nickel Mines, Eramen Minerals, LNL Archipelago Minerals, Zambales Diversified Metals, Berong Nickel and two mining sites of Citinickel.
She says nickel mines are not being targeted. “I’m just following the law. From the point of view of the law and what the President directed, these 7 [mining sites] are totally going against the spirit of the law. I don’t care whether they’re nickel … I’m not targeting nickel companies, I’m targeting companies with complaints.”
Gina Lopez has also stated recently that she will not allow the undeveloped $5.9 billion Tampakan Gold-Copper Project in southern Mindanao to operate as an open-pit site.
Tampakan is the biggest stalled mining venture in the country, failing to take off after the province where it is located banned open-pit mining in 2010. Commodities giant Glencore quit the project last year.
“I will not allow the Tampakan project,” Gina Lopez said, as long as it is planned as an open-pit mine. She said all permits given to the project will be reviewed “but we will observe due process”.
She is particularly against the use of open pits to extract minerals, describing it as “madness” even to consider the method in the resource-rich Philippines because of the environmental impact. Many mineral producers in the Philippines use open-pit mines, which are allowed under the country’s mining laws.