Duterte in the Philippines maintains surface mining ban amid political conflict

MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has not lifted the ban on surface mining, his spokesman said on Monday, going against the position of a government panel and the Minister of the Environment seeking to reverse policy.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte Rodrigo Duterte gestures during a press conference on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Pasay, in the Metro Manila, Philippines, November 14, 2017. REUTERS / Dondi Tawatao

Surface mining is permitted under the laws of the Southeast Asian country, the world’s largest exporter of nickel ore. But, former Environment Minister Regina Lopez banned it during her 10 months in office, saying environmental degradation has ruined the economic potential of places where it has been done.

The Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC), an interagency group that makes recommendations on mining policy, last month called on the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources to lift the ban. Roy Cimatu, the new Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources, supports the removal of the ban. Cimatu replaced Lopez when she resigned in May after the Philippine Congress voted not to confirm her.

“I assure you this is one of the cases where I personally asked the president if there had been a change in policy. And he says there is still no new policy on this, that there is still a ban on new surface mines, ”said Harry Roque, spokesperson for Duterte, during a press conference.

Roque said he was not sure the MICC recommendation reached Duterte. The MICC is co-chaired by Cimatu and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez.

Calls and messages to Cimatu seeking comment were not immediately returned.

But Undersecretary of Finance Bayani Agabin, who is a Dominguez deputy at the MICC, said the surface mining policy is under Duterte’s authority.

“The president has the final say on the matter,” Agabin told Reuters in a text message.

The ban would only affect new projects. Lifting the ban could open the door for some expensive ventures, including the $ 5.9 billion Tampakan copper and gold mine.

The Tampakan project in South Cotabato province on the island of Mindanao is the largest stalled mining company in the country.

Operator Glencore Plc left the project in 2015, but development was first halted after South Cotabato banned surface mining in 2010.

Lopez said the project would cover an area of ​​700 football fields on what would otherwise be farmland.

Duterte said in September he agreed with the surface mining ban given the environmental damage it causes, but would give mining companies time to find other ways to extract the minerals .

Reporting by Manolo Serapio Jr.; Edited by Christian Schmollinger

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