By Louise Maureen Simeon (The Philippine Star) | Updated August 1, 2017 - 12:00am
MANILA, Philippines - The order banning all prospective open-pit mines in the country will remain in effect and will be taken up at the interagency Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC), Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu said.
“It stays. This is a policy and we at the DENR implement policies. I brought this up during the MICC meeting and we will be meeting again several weeks from now,” Cimatu said on the sidelines of the MOA signing between the DENR and the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption yesterday.
Before she got rejected by the Commission on Appointments, former environment chief Gina Lopez banned the open-pit method of mining for copper, gold, silver and complex ores all over the country.
Since the appointment of Cimatu, mining stakeholders have been hopeful Cimatu will reverse the orders of Lopez.
Sought for comment, the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) maintained that it understands Cimatu’s recent decision, saying the open pit ban is a serious policy decision that needs to be studied carefully, with due consideration of all impacts and the interests of all stakeholders.
“We only hope that the matter will be resolved soon to address the uncertainty currently pervading in the industry,” COMP legal and policy vice president Ronald Recidoro told The STAR.
“We hope it will be an evidence-based decision that considers current technology. Open pit mining is an accepted practice worldwide that is safer than underground mining. Open pit mines can be fully rehabilitated and transformed for other land uses,” he said.
Among the biggest prospective open-pit mines are the over $2-billion Pangilinan-led Silangan mine in Surigao del Norte and the $5.9-billion Tampakan project in South Cotabato, dubbed as potentially the country’s biggest foreign investment and believed to be one of the largest gold prospects in the world.
The ban came after Lopez cited several reasons for the ban including its financial and environmental liability, deprivation of economic use of the area, continuing adverse impact on the environment, and its high risk to host communities.
Open-pit is defined as an excavation or cut made on the surface of the ground for the purpose of extracting ore and which is open to the surface for the duration of the mine’s life.
The order was issued even if open pit mining is allowed under the Philippine Mining Act. The Constitution even gives the state the duty to explore, develop, and utilize the country’s mineral resources.
Open pits, however, ended up as perpetual liabilities, causing adverse impacts on the environment, particularly due to the generation of acidic and heavy metal-laden water, erosion of mine waste dumps and vulnerability of tailings dams to geological hazards.
Records show that most of the mining disasters in the country were due to tailings spills associated with open-pit mining.
However, banning of the open-pit method may also affect energy supply nationwide, experts said.
Meanwhile, the Interagency Mining Industry Coordinating Council has yet to release the results of its review on the mining sites that had been ordered closed or suspended by then former environment chief Gina Lopez.
According to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, no final decision has yet been made yet after the MICC, co-chaired by the finance department, met last week.