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End open-pit mining ban — MICC

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File photo of Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy Cimatu taken on Oct. 4, 2017. -- SENATE PRIB/Cesar Tomambo

THE CONTROVERSIAL BAN on open-pit mining is nearing its end after the multi-agency Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) yesterday recommended its lifting and the government’s Environment chief signaled his concurrence.

“In the 28th MICC meeting held on 24 October 2017, wherein a quorum was… present… majority of… MICC members voted to recommend a change in the policy of the DENR with regard to Department Administrative Order (DAO) 2017-10, particularly: that the DENR lift the ban on open-pit mining provided that mining laws are strictly enforced,” Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy A. Cimatu yesterday said in a press conference after the meeting as he read an official statement.

Asked if he concurred with the MICC’s recommendation, Mr. Cimatu — who co-chairs the council with Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III — replied: “Yes.”

Lifting the ban would pave the way for the development of some big-ticket mining projects, including a prospective copper and gold mine in Mindanao that had previously been estimated to cost some $5.9 billion. The project site — with an area of around 10,000 hectares straddling Tampakan, South Cotabato; Columbio in Sultan Kudarat; Kiblawan in Davao del Sur; and Malungon in Sarangani — is estimated to hold 15 million tons of copper and nearly 18 million ounces of gold. Value of mine production had been estimated at $37 billion over 20 years. Development of the Tampakan project was halted after South Cotabato banned open-pit mining in mid-2010, prompting operator Glencore Plc to quit the project in 2015.

At the same time, Mr. Cimatu clarified that he would have to consult fellow Cabinet members before he issues the order to end the ban on “the open pit method of mining for copper, gold, silver and complex ores in the country” that was put in place by DAO 2017-10, signed by former Environment secretary Regina Paz L. Lopez last Apr. 27.

“Hopefully we can present this [draft order to the Cabinet] in the first week of November,” Mr. Cimatu said when asked for a time table.

He recalled that “[d]uring a Cabinet meeting on Sept. 4, the President ordered me to look at other options aside from open-pit mining, not to allow it in watersheds and plant trees around areas which are not utilized for mining.” President Rodrigo R. Duterte had said in September that he agrees with the open-pit ban ordered by Ms. Lopez, who had failed in May to secure lawmakers’ confirmation of her appointment to head the DENR.

Ms. Lopez, in a Facebook post on Tuesday, said open-pit mines pose “very high risks in tropical and archipelagic countries like the Philippines” where strong typhoons are normal. “The Philippines is not a fit and proper place for open pit mining,” she said.

Sought for comment, Ronald S. Recidoro, executive director of the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, said in a text message: “We see the MICC recommendation as a positive development for the mining industry.”

“Open-pit mining is an accepted mining method that is practiced worldwide. It is proven to be safe, efficient and economical, and can be fully rehabilitated post-mining,” he added.

The MICC also said in its press release yesterday that it expects to release “preliminary results” of its “fact-finding and science-based” review of the first batch of 26 of the country’s 41 operating metal mines ordered closed or suspended in February by Ms. Lopez “in January next year and the final report by March.” — Elijah Joseph C. Tubayan, J. C. Lim and Reuters

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