MANILA – Scrambling to put in place policy changes before her uncertain fate at the Commission on Appointments when Congress resumes session next week, DENR Secretary Gina Lopez issued another order that drew protests from business: she banned open pit mining, which the law allows, because she said it had caused many serious disasters in the past.
Her draft circular bans new open pit mining projects that will dig for copper, gold, silver and complex ores.
“I’m doing this na nga, eh. Everything I did now, I find politics is unpredictable, eh. I have no idea what’s gonna happen. I’m not gonna wait; these are very important policies, and bahala na [it’s up to chance],” she said.
According to Lopez, besides the financial liability that open pit mines could cost the government when they are neglected, these do damage to communities and disrupt the economic potential of the country.
The draft administrative order of the DENR pointed out that several mining disasters in the country sprang from spills associated with open pit mining, such as the 1996 Marcopper disaster.
“Don’t start because once it starts and we don’t have the technology to make it better . . it’s scary.
Zero, zero, zero, stop it already. We have suffered so much, I dont want it anymore!”
Right now there are 14 open pit mines in the country, of which 10 are abandoned or suspended, and only four are operational.
Lopez clarified, however, that she will no longer deal with these.
Among those to be banned are those still applying for permits; and those that already have permits but have not yet mined or dug up ores.
A few big projects are expected to be affected by the draft order: King King copper gold project in Compostella Valley, the Tampakan copper gold project in South Cotabato and the Silangan copper gold mine in Surigao del Norte, a subsidiary of Philex Mining Corporation.
These companies will be given show-cause orders by the DENR.
“Silangan is a 2-billion-dollar open pit. Two billion dollars. Did you see how bad Marcopper is, then we’re gonna do that?” Lopez said.
The Philippine Mining Act allows open pit mining but, according to Lopez, there’s no need to amend the law because in her view, it gives her the prerogative to prohibit open pit mining.
She admitted she was rushing the changes she thinks are imperative in the DENR sector because the bicameral Commission on Appointments will take up her case again next week. Congress returns from its break on May 2.
The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines disputed Lopez’s claim that the law as it stands gives her the mandate to unilaterally ban open pit mining.
Ron Recidoro, vice president of the Chamber, said the Administrative Code requires the holding first of public hearings for changing such rules, “and the need to secure comments from the public especially the affected parties.”
Recidoro said Lopez had the draft circular drawn up without consulting the affected parties, so it took them by surprise. “Like I said, open pit mining is allowed by law; she cannot do an administrative order amending the law. That can’t be done.”
The comment of Philex Mining and the other affected firms is still being awaited at press time.