A port is pictured as trucks and a backhoe load rocks and soil containing nickel-ore minerals into a barge in the mining town of Sta Cruz, Zambales, Feb. 8, 2017. — REUTERS

By Luisa Maria Jacinta C. Jocson

THE CHAMBER of Mines of the Philippines (CoMP) said it is not clear on whether mining policy implemented by the current government will enjoy any continuity in the succeeding administration in the absence of clear intentions expressed by the 2022 Presidential candidates.

“We have yet to hear a clear minerals development policy or strategy from any of the Presidential candidates. All candidates should develop a long-term minerals development policy as many future technologies (renewable energy, batteries, EVs, computers, etc.) all depend on scarce minerals, and securing these will be critical,” CoMP Executive Director Ronald S. Recidoro said in an e-mail interview.

“The mining industry has always looked at changes in administration with cautious optimism. This is particularly true of the 2022 national elections, considering the policy gains we have secured in the last two years,” he added. “We would like to ensure that these gains are sustained under the next administration, and that its fruits — increased socio-economic contribution from mining — are felt by the Filipino people.”

On Dec. 23, the four-year ban on open-pit mining was lifted by Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Its Department Administrative Order (DAO) 2021-40 repeals the 2017 order issued by the late Environment Secretary Regina L. Lopez.

DAO 2017-10 banned open-pit mining, noting that “most of the mining disasters in the country were to due tailings spills associated with open-pit mining.”

Mr. Recidoro said the current government is taking the steps in the right direction.

“We think the (current) administration was right in making these policy corrections. With regulatory safeguards now firmly in place, and an improved fiscal regime being implemented, the time was right to allow new mines to come onstream. We can only hope that the new administration will see it fit to continue and build upon these reforms,” he said.

In April, the government lifted the nine-year moratorium on granting new mining permits.

“The mining industry under President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s administration was a mixed bag, but which has turned in our favor in the last 12 months. Early in his administration, Mr. Duterte voiced his concern over irresponsible mining practices he had seen while mayor of Davao City. He then appointed Secretary Regina L. Lopez to introduce radical change into how mines were regulated and operated. As a result, suspensions and closure orders were issued, and a ban placed on open- pit mining,” Mr. Recidoro said.

At the time, Mr. Recidoro said the excise tax on minerals doubled ahead of the moratorium on new mining permits.  He said the industry “suffered tremendously during that time, but we took it as an opportunity to re-examine the industry, effect key environmental, social, and governance (ESG) reforms, and upgrade our capacities and capabilities.”

“Like the other mineral-rich countries, we should position the country as a global player and make best economic use of our mineral resources. Given the opportunity, we would be happy to provide the candidates with a briefing on the matter and emphasize the importance of a strong and responsible minerals industry to the country,” he added.

The Foundation for Economic Freedom (FEF) said in a statement that the lifting of the ban would boost an economy still reeling from the pandemic by generating government revenue at the national and community level and increasing export revenue to help finance critical capital imports.

“Lifting the ban on open-pit mining will accelerate the growth of the mining industry, which will generate good paying jobs in the countryside and help dent rural unemployment and poverty,” the FEF read.

“Any negative effects on the environment can be mitigated with rehabilitation measures and other environmental safeguards that mining companies must adhere to. Open-pit mining is used worldwide and in countries with strict environmental laws, such as the US, Australia, and Canada,” the FEF added.

Meanwhile, environmental groups and political parties expressed their opposition to the resumption of open-pit mining, calling it a reversal of Mr. Duterte’s election promise.

Isa na naman itong pangakong napako ng administrasyong Duterte. Sabi niya noong eleksyon na ipapasara ang mga dambuhalang mina na nakasisira sa kalikasan, ngunit ngayon  binibigyang-daan ang open-pit mining, ang panghuhuthot sa yamang mineral ng bansa, ang matinding pagwasak ng mga kabundukan,” Bayan Muna Party-list said in a statement.

(This is another promise of the Duterte Administration that was not fulfilled. During the campaign, he said he will have the big mining companies closed. But now, he is giving way to open-pit mining, which damages the environment, robs us of our mineral wealth, and destroys our mountains.)

Mukhang nais ng administrasyong Duterte na mangolekta ng malaki mula sa kompanya ng mina bago mag-eleksyon kung kaya’t ngayon tinanggal itong ban sa open-pit mining,” it added.

“It is crystal clear that if the Duterte-Marcos alliance wins the elections in 2022, we can expect more pro-mining policies from government. We must call on the opposition to campaign for the reinstatement of the open-pit mine ban and the moratorium on new mining projects. We call on all pro-environment Filipinos to unite and defeat the pro-mining Duterte-Marcos alliance,” Leon A. Dulce, national coordinator of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment said in an e-mail, referring to the ticket of Presidential candidate Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. and his running mate, Davao Mayor Sara Z. Duterte-Carpio.

Anakpawis Party-list and the fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas also warned of major environmental consequences of the return of open-pit mining in a joint statement.

“The resumption of open-pit mining is (brining) our environment towards a major disaster in the making. The country’s productive agricultural and fisheries resources will be sacrificed for this extreme greed for profit of mining corporations at the cost of the people’s socio-economic rights, national patrimony, and sound and sustainable environment. Moreover, this order is a betrayal of the people who continue to defend their livelihood and rights to a healthy ecology,” the statement read.

“As a result of the nickel tailings, traditional fish species that used to thrive in the municipal waters have become extinct. Moreover, the tailings have destroyed several reefs that used to be the breeding grounds of fish. Until now, those big mining companies responsible for the degradation of fishing waters have yet to compensate the affected fishing communities,” it added.