PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte on Monday, April 9, gave mining companies six months to rehabilitate mined out areas and warned he may yet impose a total ban on open-pit mining next year.
“I’m going to give you six months from now. Six months. I do not want to see any bald [areas]. I want [to see] the trees as tall as me by six months. Without the replacement of those trees, consider your permit revoked. Better pack up your things. You can go and that would be closed permanently,” Mr. Duterte said in his speech at the Davao International Airport prior to his departure for China and Hong Kong.
He added: “I am not kidding. Do not wait for the day of your sorrow. Six months. I do not want to see any bald piece of land there. And, maybe next year, maybe, I will ban open-pit mining. Sleep on it. Sleep on it.”
Sought for comment, Chamber of Mines of the Philippines Executive Director Ronaldo S. Recidoro said in a phone interview: “Active mining really requires that you replace flora and fauna. If it’s within the mining plan that once an area is mined out, the miner has a responsibility to rehabilitate it. Now the President is saying that we have to rehabilitate, I think that is already a known responsibility of miners. We know that we have to rehabilitate. So, I don’t understand the context of six months.”
Mr. Recidoro also explained that the 43 operating mines in the country are still in the process of mining. “We cannot rehabilitate until those areas are mined out. Hence, if the President was referring to the mined out areas, those areas are already being rehabilitated.”
“If he is referring to the abandoned mines, that is a very complicated discussion. However, he is correct. Abandoned mines have to be rehabilitated properly, but who will assume the responsibility given that these abandoned mines are precisely abandoned? They have to look for the contractors who will be held liable, or the government itself can assume the responsibility of the rehabilitation,” he added.
As for the total ban on open-pit mining, Mr. Recidoro said the ban imposed by former Environment Secretary Regina Paz L. Lopez “is still in effect.”
The Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC), according to Mr. Recidoro, “has come out with a recommendation to lift it, but the President has not acted on it.”
“There is already an ongoing ban. If he is going to make it permanent, then that is a new thing,” he added.
Mr. Recidoro also said the mining industry has been trying to convince the President to consider the MICC’s recommendation.
“It is because open-pit is… accepted… globally. It has been shown to be the most effective and safer method for extracting minerals. It’s been shown also that you can rehabilitate open-pit mines quite easily. It’s been shown that older open-pit mines are now converted into parks, tourism areas, or converted back into agricultural or forest lands. So we can do that here in the Philippines.”
The President’s decision to totally ban the open-pit mining, according to Mr. Recidoro, will impact copper and gold mining operations in the country. “Or it could be nickels, depending on the coverage of the ban. Or even coals and cements,” he added.
For now, the national contribution of the mining industry to the gross domestic product (GDP) of the country, according to Mr. Recidoro, is “admittedly insignificant.”
“But if you look at the regions where mines are operating like Region 4-B, Caraga, Region 13, you will see that the contribution of mining to these regions (is) something like 20% to 25% of the regional GDP. And if you go down to the provincial level, the contribution of the mining industry is bigger. There are only 43 mining operations in the country. The next question there is, what do we want from it? Do we want to increase this small number? Or do we want to decrease it some more?”
Mr. Recidoro stressed the need for a clearer understanding of what the President plans to do with the mining industry. “We need to find out the context of the President’s pronouncement, where he is coming from.”
When it comes to Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu, Mr. Recidoro said he “has a plan.”
“He has a vision for the industry. He wants it to be a contributor to the economy. He said, if the oil companies in the Middle East were able to help the region achieve the First World status, the mining industry [in the Philippines] is also capable of doing it. So that’s what he wants to see happen. For that to happen, we need to improve the perception of mining,” Mr. Recidoro said, adding:
“Perhaps Secretary Cimatu has already told the President about his proposal to accelerate the rehabilitation of the nickel mines, then that could be his basis.” — Arjay L. Balinbin