DOF chief backs DENR’s mining move; LGUs can keep ban, says lawyer
MANILA, Philippines — Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, head of President Rodrigo Duterte’s economic team and co-chair of the interagency Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC), said the government would be capable of strictly regulating mining operations now that the four-year-old ban on the open-pit method of extracting ores and minerals had been lifted.
Dominguez on Thursday said he was supportive of the decision of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to end the ban, noting that the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 did not prohibit this method.
But two days after the DENR decision was made public, environmentalists continued to assail the policy change—and also suggested that local government units (LGUs) still have a legal basis to keep imposing the restriction in their respective areas.
The Local Government Code, or Republic Act No. 7160, “puts primacy on LGUs to safeguard their environment and the welfare of their constituents, and (this law) shall take precedence over the administrative order that (Environment Secretary Roy) Cimatu issued regarding open-pit mining,” said lawyer Mai Taqueban, executive director of the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center (LRNRC).
Taqueban cited as an example the ban imposed by South Cotabato province on open-pit mining in 2010, which had the local environmental code as legal basis. The South Cotabato ban was well ahead of the 2017 prohibition imposed by then Environment Secretary Gina Lopez.
In a statement issued by the Department of Finance (DOF) on Thursday, Dominguez said “this matter was extensively discussed in the MICC and with advice and guidance from experts, the recommendation was to lift the ban.’’
“I am confident the DENR is fully capable of regulating mining operations in the country so that mining activities are conducted safely with due regard to the protection of the environment,” he said, adding:
“The protection of the environment is nonnegotiable. We have to strike a careful balance between preserving and protecting the environment and pursuing our economic development objectives.”
Open-pit mining is a globally accepted method that is considered the most feasible option for mining near-surface or shallow ore deposits, the DOF statement said.
Major issues concerning mining operations could not be attributed to the use of this method itself, but rather to accidents involving wastes and tailings confinements which could be prevented through strict monitoring and regulation, it added.
The DENR earlier projected that the resumption of open-pit mining would lead to the immediate development of 11 pending projects that can generate about P11 billion in government revenue and P36 billion in additional exports per year, as well as employment for 22,880 people, especially in remote municipalities.
“These economic prospects can be realized while we continuously implement strategies to manage and avoid the negative impacts of the open-pit mining method,” Dominguez said.
Signed by Cimatu on Dec. 23, the order lifting the ban has since riled various environmental groups.
Taqueban of the LRNRC warned that several provinces were still reeling from the impact of Typhoon “Odette,” the strongest typhoon to hit the country this year.
“How many more typhoons do we need before we learn our lesson?” Taqueban said as she warned that the return of open-pit mining could worsen the impact of extreme weather disturbances, like the recent typhoon that wreaked havoc in the Visayas and Mindanao.
“That’s so disgraceful and they did it at time of environmental disaster,” added Dr. Jean Lindo, cochair of Panalipdan Mindanao. “The obvious (damage) of mining is the removal of trees — mountaintop removal — with the creation of the open pit. This alone will make an area in danger of flooding because there is nothing left to absorb the floodwater.”
“It is not what we expected following the disastrous Typhoon Odette that displaced thousands of families, affected livelihoods and businesses, and left us with millions of pesos in damage,” said lawyer Mark Peñalver, executive director of the environmental group Interface on Development Intervention.
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