DENR says open-pit mining ban to stay
Decision on mine closures, suspensions moved to end-August Secretary Roy Cimatu of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said yesterday that he would not lift a ban on open-pit mining imposed in April and that an inter-agency mining council would review how mining companies in the Philippines were taxed.
Cimatu, a former general, was appointed by President Duterte in May after the previous choice as environment secretary, Regina Lopez, failed to secure Senate confirmation after a crackdown on mining companies designed to protect the country’s environment.
Duterte said last week he wanted to stop exporting unprocessed mineral resources and warned miners in the world’s top nickel ore supplier he would impose more taxes on the industry to raise money to help communities hurt by their operations.
At the same time, mining firms that were ordered shutdown or suspended by Lopez during her brief stint in the DENR needed to wait a bit longer for the review of their appeals.
Judgment day for the affected mining companies has been moved to end-August from the original schedule of end-July, according to Environment Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Maria Paz Luna.
Cimatu said the delay was due to the “voluminous” documents submitted by the respondent-companies.
“We really need to get all the evidence that we can get,” he said.
In an interview, Luna said only 13 of the 22 large-scale mining operators that were issued closure and suspension orders for alleged violations of mining and environmental laws submitted a motion for reconsideration.
Mines and Geoscience Bureau chief Wilfredo Moncano said the target was to finish reviewing three to four cases a week. Of the 13 companies, DENR’s legal affairs department already finished evaluating three firms, but the decisions had to be presented to the secretary first.
Cimatu also reiterated that the department was keen on weeding out corruption, especially in the mining sector. “If mining companies cannot improve their operations, then they need to get out of the business,” he said.
In Legazpi City, the MGB Bicol vowed to give more emphasis on the implementation of responsible mining practices as the agency gathered more support in its monitoring of operation of mining firms in the region.
Guillermo Molina, regional director of the MGB-DENR, said in an interview last Friday that the protection of the environment, accountability, sustainability and rehabilitation were the basic factors in responsible mining operations.
He said responsible mining also involved following the law, caring for the people and providing social and economic activity in the community.
“Should a mining entity fail to follow these procedures, they have no business in engaging in this venture,” Molina said.
The MGB Bicol executive said responsible mining operation was the center of discussion during the recently held 4th Bicol Mining Summit where members of the Philippine Society of Mining Engineers (PSEM) shared their best practices in mining that would make the industry more resilient and strong amid the challenges and adversities.
At the summit, members of the PSEM expressed support for President Duterte’s call for the industry to indeed engage in responsible mining, Molina said.
Serge Gacad, former president of PSEM, said that under the law, mining operations should follow the four stages of exploration, construction, actual mining operation and rehabilitation.
Gacad said under the new mining law, “there would be no responsible mining process when there is no rehabilitation.”
Under the new law, miners are required to undertake “progressive mining.” This procedure calls on miners to start rehabilitation while undertaking extraction, construction and actual mining operation. He cited Rio Tuba Mining in Palawan where the mining firm was given a citation for responsible mining practice.
Progressive mining rehabilitation should be included in every mining plan and, before a mining project is implemented, a consultation process should be presented to various stakeholders, the local government units (LGU) and their host community.
As this developed, Albay Representative Joey Salceda expressed plans to increase the excise tax on mining from 2 percent to 10 percent.
There are only three mining companies operating in Bicol—the Masbate gold oroject of Filminera in Aroroy town in Masbate; Mayon cement plant in Camalig town in Albay, and the perlite mining in Barangay Lamba in Legazpi City.
The Rapu-Rapu gold mine project in Rapu-Rapu, an island town in Albay, has been decommissioned and currently undergoing rehabilitation, Molina said.
MGB data indicated that the mining industry contributed only 0.6 percent to the country’s GDP.
MGB reports also showed that the country was the fifth most mineral-rich country in the world for gold, nickel, copper and chromite. The Philippine has an estimated $840 billion worth of untapped mineral resources. About 30 million hectares of land area in the Philippines are possible areas for metallic minerals. The metal deposit in the Philippines is estimated at 21.5 billion metric tons and non-metallic minerals are at 19.3 billion metric. —WITH REPORTS FROM REUTERS, KARL R. OCAMPO AND MAR S. ARGUELLES
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