The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines has branded the decision of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Regina Lopez to close over half of the country’s mines and suspend others as “illegal and unfair”. The chamber says the decision jeopardises an industry that has paid a large amount in taxes and fees to the government.

In a statement the chamber said, “She violated due process - which is an inherent part of the rule of law – and did not give proper notice by consistently refusing to release the results of the audit to the affected parties.

“She has created an unstable policy environment resulting in the stalling of economic growth momentum under the Duterte Administration,” the chamber said, citing the industry’s 62.5 billion pesos (US$1.26 billion) worth of investments.

The decision, which President Rodrigo Duterte said he supports, has angered the country’s mining industry, with miners saying the shutdowns will affect 1.2 million people. The 23 mines to be closed account for half of nickel ore output by the world’s top supplier of the metal. Another five mines were suspended.

Reuters reports that the team that reviewed an audit of Philippine mines recommended suspension of operations and payment of fines for environmental violations, rather than the closure of 23 mines ordered by the minister overseeing the process. Reuters quotes ‘two people with knowledge of the matter’.

One of them said the review team believed some of the violations, which included insufficient rehabilitation of mined areas, absence of tree-cutting permits and construction of alternate haul roads, were rectifiable, and did not warrant permanent closure.

“She’s the boss, she has all the discretion,” the person said. “The only question is what her basis in her decision was?”

The second person said damage to watersheds and siltation of coastal waters where the mines are located were the major reasons that led to the decision. “The secretary herself went to the mining sites and she personally reviewed the documents and that led to the decision.”

Regina Lopez launched the environmental audit of the mines in July, initially suspending 10 and saying 20 more were at risk of being halted. The bureau’s review team began examining the audit results and the responses from miners in December.

The chamber and one of the sources said that members of the review team were banned from last Thursday’s briefing.

Not allowing the Mines and Geosciences Bureau personnel to attend the press conference “leaves a lot of doubt in the fairness of the entire process,” chamber chairman Artemio Disini said in a letter to Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez.

Meantime, the Department of Finance (DOF) says it is set to assess the impact of the closure and suspension orders on several mining operations.

Finance Secretary Carlos G Dominguez III says the economic team and other cabinet members will assess the potential impact of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ (DENR) mining ban on jobs, revenue collection and the economy. “I have to consult with other economic managers [regarding the DENR order, but] my primary concern is the impact on employees, secondary concern is the impact on municipal finances because municipalities collect a lot of taxes.”

He said the government has to put in place emergency employment programs for displaced employees. “I have asked members of the Cabinet if they have in place emergency employment programs.”

The Department of Social Welfare and Development is looking into the mining case, while the Department of Public Works and Highways plans to accelerate projects implementation to accommodate more employees, he said. Likewise, the Department of Trade and Industry and Department of Labor and Employment will initiate emergency employment programs.

He also said the government will convene the Mining Industry Coordinating Council, a body tasked to formulate the implementing rules and regulations for Executive Order 79, also known as the new mining policy.

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