PHILEX Mining Corp. Chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan said the regulation of the mining industry must be separate from environmental protection, functions currently carried out by bureaus of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

“In that regard, structures must be amended because under the department are two important agencies, the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB). You’ve got two agencies whose functions are self-contradictory: having to safeguard the environment but also promote mining,” Mr. Pangilinan said in a television interview.

“In the United States, the environmental protection agency is separate from the mining regulators so there’s still check and balance,” he added.

Mr. Pangilinan called for “better regulation of mining companies, including small miners,” following a nickel mine spill that discolored and silted rivers in Davao Oriental.

“We have to ensure the regulators are well-funded and better-educated. If the mining industry has to support that and fund the regulators, then so be it. We should support it. The more informed the regulators are, the more safeguards are adopted. That should be welcomed by the industry,” he said.

With the upcoming change in administration, Mr. Pangilinan said that he is hopeful but still cautious about the outlook of the industry.

“From what I could gather, most of the (candidates) are showing a liberal view of mining. So that’s good news, and if that follows through in terms of actual policy and the view of the new government on mining, then that would be great development for the industry,” he said.

“Whether that will eventuate on June 30 onwards, I don’t know. Something always happens,” he added, referring to the new government’s takeover date.

On Dec. 23, the government lifted the four-year ban on open-pit mining, repealing the order issued by the late Environment Secretary Regina L. Lopez, an anti-mining advocate.

“I’m not really sure if the ban will stay lifted, because ahead of us is a new government, and will the new government maintain this policy? We don’t know,” Mr. Pangilinan said.

Philex is currently developing its Silangan copper-gold project in Surigao del Norte but said it will be opting for the sub-level caving method over open-pit mining.

“We will lose a lot of time if we revert to open-pit method. We don’t want the headache of uncertainty ahead of us,” he said.

Mr. Pangilinan said that moving forward, the mining industry must prove its sustainability and benefit to society and the economy.

“To a degree, mining has been at fault as there have been unfortunate events, like the Marcopper incident in 1996, that’s one of the big pollution events to happen in history. There are also probably instances of pollutants being thrown to rivers and oceans,” he said.

“It’s so easy to demonize mining and the business itself has to demonstrate that it can be prosecuted safely. Outside the Philippines, there are much bigger mines that operate and by and large, they’ve done reasonably well in terms of protecting the environment. We must also have the proper practices in order to do the same,” he added. — Luisa Maria Jacinta C. Jocson