Due to past examples of environmental mismanagement, and with only a reported 3 per cent of 9 million hectares identified by the state as having high mineral reserves being mined, mining in the South East Asian nation remains a contentious issue.

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President Duterte continues his strong stance on mining in the Philippines
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The Cordillera region is rich in mineral reserves such as gold copper, silver, zinc, and non-metallic minerals like sand, gravel and sulphur

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has continuously criticised miners for polluting the environment, bringing in a number of measures and orders curbing mining operations in the country.

In June this year, hope was sown with the Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Roy Cimatu – citing President Duterte’s push on “increasing competitiveness and the ease of doing business to attract local and foreign direct investment” – lifting a moratorium on government approvals for small-scale mining projects.

While only 1 per cent of the Philippine economy is supported by mining, the country is one of the world’s largest exporters of nickel ore, and the recent legislative reforms and industry assessments are hoped to be the start of a more tolerant policy towards mining.

The following month, officials lifted a two-year moratorium on approving mining exploration permits, in a move that the government and industry hoped would determine the potential of some prospects.

Although this was the second mining policy measure amended in 2018, environment officials indicated that a ban on new mining operations would remain in place.

Cimatu’s decision was echoed by Environment and Natural Resources Undersecretary Analiza Teh who commented that the new order would only allow exploration at 16 previously approved mining contracts.

Teh was cited in Reuters to have said that “only those with existing MPSAs (mineral production sharing agreements) could proceed with exploration, with the exploration permit allowing only mapping and drilling to determine mining potential, but no new mineral agreements would still be signed.”

In August, the Department of Energy and Natural Resources (DENR) completed its review of 26 Philippines mining companies, finding 13 to be of unacceptable standard and potentially looking at being closed or suspended.

According to a DENR release, the Department was in the process of determining the future of the 13 companies that were found to be operating below the obligatory standard, and who appealed against the review’s findings by filing a motion for consideration.

“Mining companies need to shape up,” said Cimatu. “We will definitely use the comprehensive report made by the MICC review teams in evaluating whether or not a mining company should continue to operate. However, I am inclined to put more premium on the environmental considerations in the mining operations.”

Cimatu referred to a state of the nation address made by President Rodrigo Duterte, in which he noted that ensuring environmental protection is the top priority with regards to mineral exploitation, to discuss how the government will take reported inefficiencies in mine rehabilitation processes and dumping of hazardous waste seriously.

“You will expect new administrative guidelines from DENR to operationalise these reforms,” said Cimatu. “The mining industry is in deep need for radical change. And, to reiterate the message of the president in his state of the nation address, the people of the Philippines must benefit first and foremost from the utilisation of the country’s mineral resources.”

During his speech at DENR’s 31st Anniversary celebrations in September, President Duterte reiterated his support for banning open-pit mining.

“Open pit mines will be closed if they don’t shape up,” Mr. Cimatu said, “And we have to reinvent mining – find a way to extract minerals by not using open-pit mining.”

The DENR plans to enforce a department administrative order (DAO) on progressive rehabilitation which will limit mining operations to 100 hectares (ha) a year. Any further operations will require rehabilitating the already mined area after a year, before being permitted to move onto the next 100 ha.

Prior to the DAO, miners were allowed to conduct operations on 4,000 ha before rehabilitating the site, Mr. Cimatu said.

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