Duterte administration to lift ban on open-pit mining

Published October 27, 2021, 5:31 PM

by Madelaine B. Miraflor

The Duterte Administration is poised to reverse its earlier ruling on keeping the ban on open-pit method of mining supposedly done to appease environmental groups.

On Wednesday, Oct. 27, Business Bulletin secured a draft Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Administrative Order (DAO) seeking to repeal the ban on open-pit mine that former and late Environment Secretary Regina Paz Lopez had put in place in 2017.

The four-page draft DAO is entitled “Lifting of the ban on the open-pit method of mining for copper, gold, silver, and complex ore in the country under DENR Administrative Order No. 2017-10, and providing for additional enhanced parameters and criteria for surface mining methods”.

Based on DAO 2017-10, open-pit mines “have ended up as perpetual liabilities [for the government], causing adverse impacts to the environment, particularly due to the generation of acidic and/or heavy metal-laden water, erosion of mine waste dumps and/or vulnerability of tailings dams to geological hazards.”.

“The records attest that most of the mining disasters in the country were due to tailings spills associated with open-pit mining,” it added.

But in the latest DAO, which now awaits the signature of Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, the DENR said continuing the ban on open-pit mining “may result in loss of economic opportunity.”

It further said that the “open-pit mining method is a globally-accepted method of mining, considered to be the most feasible option for mining near-surface or shallow ore deposits.”

“To revitalize the mining industry and usher in significant economic benefits to the country by providing raw materials for the construction and development of other industries and by increasing employment opportunities in rural areas where there are mining activities thereby stimulating countryside development,” the DAO said.

“There are best-practice control strategies and technologies that can help avoid or manage the negative impacts of open-pit mining,” it added.

When sought for reaction, Green Thumb Coalition convener and Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) National Coordinator Jaybee Garganera said environmental groups “reject this move of DENR to lift the ban on open-pit mining.”

“Cimatu must not sign this DAO, especially in light of the coming CoP26 climate summit. Such a policy move is a drastic reversal of preventing deforestation and protecting the remaining key biodiversity areas,” Garganera said.

“We also demand that President Rodrigo Duterte to categorically instruct DENR Secretary Cimatu not to sign any Administrative Order lifting the ban on open-pit mining,” he added.

Still, he said, that he will not be surprised if Duterte will remain silent or even supportive of such a move.

“It is simple to understand that the huge Chinese demand for our minerals is driving this policy direction of aggressively promoting mining, even under the pandemic,” Garganera further said.

Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP), an organization of some of the country’s largest mining operations, refused to comment on the latest DENR DAO, until it is signed.

In August, the DENR opted to keep the nationwide ban on open-pit mines amid the clamor of environmental groups.

This was after the government agency attempted to insert a provision in the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of Executive Order 130, the order that lifted the ban on new mining projects.

A highly placed source at the DENR earlier told Business Bulletin that it was Cimatu who made the direct order to remove such a provision in the IRR.

Based on the four-page IRR, which was contained in the DENR’s DAO 25, the agency decided to take out its earlier provision that would lift the whole of DAO No. 2017-10 or the ban on open-pit mining.