Miners seek ‘elbow room’ on open pit mining

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Bulldozers, backhoes and ore-hauling trucks at work at the open-pit gold-silver mine of Canada's TVI Pacific atop Canatuan mountain in the southern Philippines, 13 May 2006. -- AFP

PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte’s remarks favoring a halt to open-pit mining has left miners looking for some room to maneuver, saying that his pronouncements contemplate allowing mining operations currently using the method, provided environmental safeguards are met.

“On the President’s recent statement on open pit mining, it is clear to me that he does not see the ban as being implemented immediately. He said ‘eventually,’ he would like to see the closure of open pit mining and that he will give mining companies enough elbow room for eventual change in the modality of getting what’s inside the bowels of the earth,” said Chamber of Mines of the Philippines’ (CoMP) Officer-in-charge and Executive Director Ronald S. Recidoro in a statement on Wednesday.

The group is responding to Mr. Duterte’s remarks in a speech in which he ordered Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu to look into miners using the open-pit method, which is considered an efficient way to mine but which strips large swathes of surface area, attracting allegations that the method causes widespread environmental damage.

Administrative Order  No. 2017-20, issued and signed by  former Environment Secretary Regina Paz L. Lopez on April 27, requires all open-pit metal mines that have not operated but can produce an approved Declaration of Mining Project Feasibility — the final requirement mining firms have to secure before operating — to review their mining methods and submit their results by October, six months from the issuance of the order.

However, the order did not spell out what is to be done with the findings or sanctions to be imposed on miners that fail to comply.

The CoMP official said the President’s statements are “an expression of his frustration over the images of illegal mining that he has so far seen.”

“I think there is still an opportunity to convince the President that open-pit mining, if done responsibly and rehabilitated properly, can and should still be allowed.”

CoMP Chairman and Nickel Asia Corp. President Gerard H. Brimo, invited Mr. Duterte to a mine tour of areas that have gone through rehabilitation.

“We understand that he has flown to some parts of Surigao. Those are the newer mines that haven’t gone through any sort of rehabilitation. But we have very good examples in our country of surface mines, part of which have been rehabilitated. And we will be delighted if he could spare some of his valuable and busy time to visit some of these mines,” Mr. Brimo told reporters on the sidelines of the second day of the mining summit.

Global Ferronickel Holdings, Inc. President Dante R. Bravo said a firm policy behind the President’s statement may crystallize later on.

“At the moment, what I understand is that open-pit mining is an international mining methodology… that is safe and technically feasible with due consideration to any environmental impact. And we have strict and sufficient regulatory framework to govern that,” Mr. Bravo said in a mobile message on Wednesday.

The Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) earlier said it will soon start the review of the open pit ban, one of the policies ordered by Ms. Lopez, who failed to secure confirmation from the Commission on Appointments earlier this year.

“I’m optimistic and confident that the MICC is fast tracking [the review],” Environment Undersecretary for Policy and Planning and International Affairs Jonas R. Leones told reporters on the sidelines of the mining conference, during which he delivered Mr. Cimatu’s speech.

Mr. Leones added that the agency’s decision will be based on the recommendation of the MICC’s review.

“We cannot really issue an order while the MICC is reviewing it. What we are doing now is we are providing technical inputs so they will have out intelligent evaluation,” Mr. Leones added.

Mr. Cimatu, a former general who replaced Ms. Lopez, has not reversed the ban, saying he will leave policy issues to the mining council including the decision on whether to raise miners’ taxes which Mr. Duterte expressed intent to do. — Janina C. Lim