THE Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said the recent lifting of a ban on open-pit mining is not expected to hinder the department’s efforts in deterring illegal mining activity.

“The lifting of the open-pit ban does not… result in more illegal miners because their areas are separate from that of the large-scale miners,” Director of Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) Wilfredo G. Moncano said in a text message.

On Dec. 23, Department Administrative Order (DAO) 2021-40 lifted the four-year ban. This supersedes DAO 2017-10, issued by the late DENR Secretary Regina L. Lopez, which had banned the open-pit method of mining for copper, gold, silver and complex ores.

DAO 2017-10 contended that “most, if not all, open pits have ended up as perpetual liabilities, causing adverse impacts on the environment, particularly due to the generation of acidic and/or heavy metal-laden water, erosion of mine waste dumps and/or vulnerability of tailings dam to geological hazards.”

Mr. Moncano said the DENR is working to ensure the closure of all small-scale illegal mines.

“The MGB-DENR has addressed this issue via a program on the Expeditious Approval of Declaration of Minahang Bayan (MB), coupled with the formalization of small-scale miners and small-scale mineral processors,” Mr. Moncano said. “In 2016, there were only six Minahang Bayan or People’s Small-Scale Mining Areas approved but now we have 49 all over the country, and about 50% of them are in Mindanao. But there are still more than a hundred MB applications pending.”

“If these small-scale miners are inside approved MPSA and the MPSA holder does not give consent to the MB in its MPSA, the “Big Brother-Small Brother” set up also can be employed. The MPSA holder is the big brother who will help monitor them and implement safety and environmental practices at the same time buying the small-scale miner’s production,” he added.

In a statement, the MGB announced that it issued 144 cease and desist orders against violators of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, exceeding by 240% its original target of 59 orders.

“In our heightened campaign for responsible mining in the country, we are proud of our milestone in cracking down illegal and irresponsible use of our mining resources and areas beyond the target we have set,” Secretary Roy A. Cimatu said.

The bureau also exceeded its target for mining permits and contracts, with a total of 4,526 permits, agreements, or ore transport certifications.

“The MGB expects to have more permits and contracts issued because of this new policy development,” Mr. Moncano said.

“The increase in the issuance of mining permits and contracts will compel mining companies and entities to abide by environmental laws, policies, and regulations, thus, making our mining sector more responsible,” Mr. Cimatu added. 

The Department of Finance (DoF) said it supported the lifting of the ban, noting that the government has the capacity to enforce regulations to minimize the impact on the environment.

In a statement on Thursday, Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said: “I am confident that the DENR is fully capable of regulating mining operations in the country so that mining activities are conducted safely with due regard to the protection of the environment.”

“Strict monitoring and enforcement to ensure compliance with environmental standards shall be undertaken to prevent any abuse in the implementation of this type of mining activity,” he added.

The DoF said that with the return of open-pit mining, the industry must be mindful of the impact of its activities on the environment.

“The protection of the environment is nonnegotiable. We have to strike a careful balance between preserving and protecting the environment and pursuing our economic development objectives,” Mr. Dominguez said.

The DoF also said that the lifting of the ban will help revitalize the economy as it recovers from the pandemic, by generating additional revenue, royalty fees, exports, and jobs.

“The mining industry can become a key contributor to the nation’s economic recovery as the DENR has projected that open-pit mining will lead to the immediate development of 11 pending projects that are expected to generate about P11 billion combined in yearly government revenue, increase annual exports by P36 billion and provide employment to 22,880 people living in remote municipalities,” Mr. Dominguez said.

“These economic prospects can still be realized while we continuously implement strategies to manage and avoid the negative impacts of the open-pit mining method,” he added.

Environmental organizations and political parties expressed their opposition to the lifting of the ban. Bayan Muna Rep. Eufemia C. Cullamat said the return of open-pit mining will negatively affect the environment and indigenous tribes.

“Sa gitna ng krisis sa klima at mga tumitinding bagyo, lalong lalala ang epekto ng mga sakuna sa mamamayan sa pagtanggal ng ban na ito. Tiyak na magdudulot din ito ng mas matinding panunupil at malawakang pagpapalayas sa mga katutubo mula sa lupang ninuno (As we endure the climate crisis, which features stronger typhoons, people will be put in greater danger with the lifting of the ban. This is sure to result in the oppression and eviction of indigenous peoples from their native land),” Ms. Cullamat said in a statement. — Luisa Maria Jacinta C. Jocson