Philippines lifts ban on new mines, much to the dismay of national environmental groups
Image credit: Jurby Jumawan/Dreamstime
Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has lifted a nine-year moratorium on new mineral agreements imposed in 2012. The move hopes to help boost mining revenues in the country but has caused concern for environmental activists.
The Philippines, the top supplier of nickel ore to China and a major producer of copper and gold, imposed the moratorium while the government worked on legislation to boost the nation’s share of mining revenues. Since 2018, the excise tax on minerals has doubled to 4 per cent.
Duterte’s new executive order allows new mining deals and reviews of existing contracts for possible renegotiation. It also directs the environment ministry to plan terms and conditions and to implement rules on mine safety and environmental policies.
Shortly after coming to office in 2016, Duterte warned miners to follow tighter environmental rules or close. Furthermore, the new executive order does not undo a ban on new open-pit mines.
Mining is a highly controversial issue in the archipelagic country after past cases of environmental mismanagement fuelled a strong lobby against the industry led by local governments, legislators, advocacy groups, and the Catholic church.
Anti-mining group, the Alyansa Tigil Mina (Stop Mining Alliance), said the news was alarming. “In the middle of a climate crisis and this pandemic, corporate interests and profit have won again over the welfare and benefits of the many,” they said in a statement.
The Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), which is responsible for giving permits to mining companies to do exploration of mining areas and to commence operation, found that more than a third of the Philippines’ total land area of 30 million hectares has “high mineral potential”.
The MGB estimated that miners have extracted less than 5 per cent of the country’s mineral reserves so far, and there is around $840bn (£610bn) worth of untapped mineral resources.
MGB director Wilfredo Moncano said several pending mining projects will now proceed to the development and commercial extraction stages, but warned that these projects will not mean that protecting the environment and safety will be taken lightly.
Scrambling for funds for infrastructure projects and to help support the pandemic-hit economy, the Philippine government has pushed for the revival and sale of idle state mining projects. “(The executive order) will help bring the Philippines back on the investment map,” the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines said in a statement.
Dante Bravo, president of the country’s second-biggest nickel ore miner and exporter Global Ferronickel Holdings, added: “There will be a need for a lot of raw materials like nickel, copper, gold, manganese, chromite, etcetera when the world returns to normal.”
The Southeast Asian nation became the biggest supplier of nickel ore to top metals consumer China in 2020 after Indonesia banned exports of unprocessed ore.
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