New Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) secretary Roy Cimatu says he wants to balance conservation and mining interests in the Philippines. In indicating his intent to settle the bitter dispute between mining and environmental interests, he says there will be mining in the country, but only responsible mining.

The former military chief said he would be ‘moderate and calm’ in implementing policies of the DENR since he had yet to fully understand the situation in the department.

He admitted his knowledge and experience of mining and the environment was limited, and he needed time to get familiar with the task in hand before deciding what comes next. “I will not take any action on things that I haven’t seen or read or reviewed. I will look at them first,” he told Reuters.

Among those are the 22 operating mines his predecessor Regina Lopez ordered closed in February, as well as her ban on open-pit mining.

Her campaign won public support and the backing of the president, but that was not enough to see her spared by the Committee on Appointments, which last week rejected her appointment.

President Duterte has largely kept out of the mining controversy, which if not managed well risks upsetting elements of the rural poor who elected him, or unnerving investors key to his economic ambitions.

He told a media briefing this week that the government could not scrap an existing mining law but added that he wanted to implement stricter measures.

Roy Cimatu told Reuters that it was possible to develop a mining industry while preserving the environment. “There are countries where mining contributes a lot to the economy and environmentalists are not screaming.”

He said he admired the passion of Lopez and would seek her insight. Asked about speculation they might work together at the ministry, he said it was doubtful Lopez would want that.

Green groups oppose his appointment due to his inexperience and lack of a track record in conservation, but miners are cautiously optimistic.

www.denr.gov.ph

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