DENR sees less environmental harm from domestic ore processing

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THE Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said allowing more firms to engage in domestic mineral processing will facilitate the restoration of mining lands, in contrast to the current practice of exporting ore, which leaves the ground disturbed.

Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Roy A. Cimatu added that local processing will also fulfill the government’s goal of capturing more value from the country’s mineral wealth, both from the value-added and the domestic jobs created.

“I [asked] those mining companies what the revenue increase is if they process here compared with exporting the mineral ore, and they said 50%,” he said.

From the environment’s point of view, exporting ore “leaves our land with holes” because ore export entails shipping even the soil removed by the mining operation. “But if it’s processed here, the soil will be left in the country and we can put it back from where it is dug.”

The DENR is asking mining companies to adopt strip mining rather than open-pit mining. Strip mining requires replacement of the soil and restoration of greenery after a certain area is worked over by the miners, before a new area is opened up for mining.

Mr. Cimatu did not give an update on the memorandum of agreement with the Philippines Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) which will facilitate domestic processing, but added that PEZA will help deal with investors who have expressed interest in setting up facilities, especially in Mindanao.

“The processing [of minerals] is very expensive but foreign companies have [expressed interest]. In fact, Russia will be investing. China as well. They already have joint ventures with the local mining companies here,” he added.

Last year, PEZA proposed that domestic ore processing and agro-forestry activities like furniture-making take place in economic zones, requiring the approval of DENR.

PEZA expressed plans to revive the Paper Industries Corp. of the Philippines (PICOP), which has tree plantations in Mindanao, through the proposed agro-forestry economic zone but it has yet to receive a reply from the DENR. — Anna Gabriela A. Mogato