DENR wants to lift moratorium on new mining projects

By Madelaine B. Miraflor

Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu is seeking to amend the controversial Executive Order (EO) 79 and DENR Memorandum Order (DMO) 2016-01, which effectively banned new mineral projects in the country and caused the slowdown in the growth of the mining sector.

At the recently held Philippine Mining Club Luncheon, Cimatu told mining companies that to ensure the increase in the contribution of mining to national income, the DENR will finally consider amending EO 79.

Cimatu’s move signals the government’s seriousness to push for a new fiscal regime in the mining sector.

EO 79 was issued by former President Benigno Aquino III, effectively placing a ban on new mineral projects in the country.  Since then, the DENR has been required to keep and observe the moratorium until a legislation rationalizing existing revenue sharing schemes and mechanisms have taken effect.

The Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), the government agency tasked to regulate the mining sector, earlier proposed a per commodity basis tax increase in the extractive industry.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said the proposal "makes sense".

The fiscal regime on the mining industry is now considered for inclusion in the package two of the government’s comprehensive tax reform package (CTRP).

Likewise, Cimatu was open to amending DENR Memorandum Order (DMO) 2016-01, which was implemented by then DENR Chief Regina Paz Lopez.

DMO 2016-01 covers the moratorium of acceptance, processing and/or approval of mining applications and/or new mining projects for all metallic and non-metallic minerals.

When it was imposed two years ago, feasibility studies of some big mining projects like the Silangan Copper-Gold Project of Silangan Mindanao Mining Company and Nickel and Chromite Mining Project of Westchinamin Corporation in Zambales were all put on hold.

"The government is firm in its policy that the utilization of the country’s mineral

resources should only be allowed when the proposed mining operation is technically feasible, environmentally compliant, socially acceptable and financially viable. The absence of any of these imperatives means that it is not the time to mine," MGB said during the time the order became effective.

At present, the Philippines is the world's top nickel producer, while it also exports gold and copper. The country's untapped mineral resources are projected to have a combined value of over $1 trillion.

On Friday, Cimatu also said miners should prepare for a scenario where there is no longer open-pit mining in the country, even telling them to start looking for an alternative to the destructive method as early as now.

He then presented new MGB proposed regulations, which provide guidelines for additional environmental measures for operating surface metallic mines and the setting of the maximum disturbed area for nickel mines.

Under the guidelines, if a miner is producing 1 million metric tons (MT) or less, they can only operate within 50 hectares of their mine sites, while those producing around 1 million to 3 million MT are only allowed to operate within 60 hectares of their tenements.

Those producing 3 million to 5 million MT, on the other hand, can only excavate within 70 hectares of their contract areas.

MGB also drafted a new set of guidelines on the evaluation and approval of the miners' three-year development, construction, and utilization work program.

The guidelines provide for a new template to incorporate re-vegetation and progressive rehabilitation during mining operation.

MGB Assistant Director Danilo Uykieng said all the provisions in the guidelines are included and have been incorporated in the soon-to-be-released Department Administrative Order (DAO) on Progressive Rehabilitation.

Once signed, the DENR will grant 60-day transitory period to allow contractors to comply with the new order.

Non-compliance, according to Cimatu, can result in suspension, cancellation of permit, and permanent disqualification in acquiring mining rights.