MICC panel recommends lifting open pit mining ban

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Open pit mining satellite snapshot
Satellite snapshot of an open pit mining site in Antique Province. Imaging from NASA Earth Observatory.

MANILA – The Mining Industry Coordinating Council, after a meeting, said in a statement on Tuesday that the majority of the panel has voted to recommend that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources “lift the ban on open pit mining provided that mining laws, rules and regulations are strictly enforced.”

Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy Cimatu has earlier indicated he will support removing the restriction imposed this year by previous DENR Sec. Regina Lopez and supported by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Open pit mining is allowed under the country’s mining law but Lopez banned it during her 10 months in office, saying the environmental degradation ruined the economic potential of places where it was taking place.

A staunch environmentalist, Lopez stepped down in May after she failed to win congressional confirmation. Cimatu, a former soldier, replaced her and was confirmed in his post by lawmakers earlier this month.

Sec. Cimatu, who co-chaired the council with Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, said he will follow the recommendation and present it at a Cabinet meeting in the first week of November.

Asked whether the ban will likely be lifted before the end of the year, Cimatu said: “Hopefully.”

Removing the ban would allow the $5.9 billion Tampakan copper-gold project in South Cotabato province on the island of Mindanao, the nation’s biggest stalled mining venture, to go ahead.

Tampakan’s development was halted after South Cotabato banned open-pit mining in 2010, prompting operator Glencore Plc to quit the project in 2015.

Lopez has said the project would cover an area the size of 700 soccer fields in what otherwise would be agricultural land.

In an August 23 meeting, the MICC tasked its Technical Working Groups (TWG) on Economic Concerns (EC) and on Environmental Protection and Legislation (EPL) to review and formulate the MICC policy recommendations in relation to the open pit mining ban.

Also, as proposed by Sec. Dominguez, the MICC agreed to conduct another review in 2019 and succeeding ones every two years thereafter, in keeping with the MICC mandate under Executive Order No. 79 on a review of all mining operations once every two years.

According to DOF Undersecretary Bayani Agabin, the TWGs were guided by the policy statements of President Duterte on the issue: “The study also covered the economic, technical, legal and social aspects of open-pit mining.”

Agabin said the clustering of the mines for review were based on the types of minerals and locations, which are as follows:

Technical Review (TRT) Team 1 for gold, copper and nickel mines in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), Cagayan Valley (Region II) and Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan (Region IV-B)

TRT 2 for iron and nickel mines in Central Luzon (Region III)

TRT 3 for chromite, nickel and iron mines in Eastern Visayas (Region VIII) and CARAGA

TRTs 4 and 5 for nickel and chromite mines in CARAGA.