A SENATOR on Sunday said she will seek an inquiry into the government’s decision to lift a four-year ban on open-pit mining, citing the threat to the communities near mines as well as to the environment.

“There is a need to conduct a thorough review of this policy decision as this can potentially open up the country once more to irresponsible mining practices which could further compromise the environment and pose health and safety risks to people and their communities,” Senator Leila M. de Lima said in a statement on Sunday.

The government needs to “exert all efforts to explore other avenues before resorting to possibly catastrophic means of generating wealth for our country at the cost of sustainability and the welfare of present and future Filipinos,” she added.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on Dec. 23 issued Department Administrative Order 2021-40, which lifted the ban on the open-pit method of mining for copper, gold, silver, and complex ores. The order took effect on Jan. 9.

While the government considers the move a means of revitalizing the economy, Ms. De Lima said environmental groups have criticized the decision as a “shortsighted and misplaced development priority.”

Ms. De Lima called for an evaluation of the DENR’s capacity to regulate the industry “to ensure that the present safeguards can be implemented and that our regulators will not be overwhelmed by the operations of the mining companies.”

Citing the 1996 Marcopper mining disaster in Marinduque, the senator noted the risk to human life and adverse environmental impacts of unregulated open-pit mining. A fracture in the drainage tunnel of a large pit containing mine tailings led to a discharge of toxic waste into the Makulapnit-Boac river system and caused flash floods along the riverside.

There had been at least five more such incidents, she added.

“It is evident from the numerous mining disasters that have occurred in the country that we have still yet to figure out how to consistently extract our mineral resources in a safe and efficient manner and reduce or altogether prevent such accidents from occurring,” she said.

Ms. De Lima called for caution when communities are subjected to such risks. “The State must first ask whether it would be prudent to think of only short-term benefits even when confronted with proof that open-pit mining results in the stripping of vegetation which leaves the surface of every dig site completely barren.”

“It must also first be determined whether policies on replanting and restoring the ecosystem have been put in place before lifting the moratorium given that open-pit mining sites take decades to recover,” she added. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan