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Philippines announces ban on new open-pit mines

Environment Secretary Regina Lopez continues her crackdown on mining in Philippines, having previously ordered the closure of more than half the country’s open-pit mining projects.Philippines’ Environment Secretary Regina Lopez has announced a ban on new open-pit mining ventures. The move comes following a months-long crackdown on the industry.

In February, Lopez ordered the permanent closure of 22 of the country’s 41 operating open-pit mines, and the cancellation of 73 contracts for ventures still in exploratory phases.

Lopez told a media briefing on Thursday the ban is based on extensive environmental damage as well as economic drawbacks.

“Each open pit is a financial liability for government for life,” she said. “It kills the economic potential of the place.”

She later said that existing mine pits would still be allowed to operate.

The environmentalist-turned-government minister is expected to face a confirmation hearing before congress this week that could see her removed from her post, following a surge of complaints from pro-mining groups that argue her actions are illegal.

Philippines has some of the world’s largest deposits of nickel and copper, but most have remained untapped due to a combination of poor management, population density and environmental concerns.

The country is estimated to be second only to South Africa for its average gold reserves per kilometer.

Mixed reactions

Lopez has broad support from environmental groups and the church, and President Rodrigo Duterte backed her February order to shut down existing mines. But the Philippines Chamber of Mines criticized today’s order as “absurd.”

“She is essentially banning the mining of shallow ore deposits that can only be extracted using open-pit mining,” said Chamber of Mines spokesperson Ronald Recidoro.

“Gina Lopez cannot add or deduct from the law by herself. It needs amending legislation from Congress.”

Speaking in front of footage of abandoned open-pit mines and their environmental consequences at Thursday’s press conference, Lopez said: “It’s the mandate of the mining law that you should not do anything which puts at risk the lives of future and present generations.”

The ban would end the development of one of the country’s biggest mining ventures, the Tampakan copper-gold project on Mindanao Island, which Lopez claims would take up an area approximately the size of 700 football fields that would otherwise be used for agricultural purposes.

Duterte has previously said Philippines could survive without a mining industry.

Environmental risk too high

Philippines has suffered major environmental degradation in recent years due to a combination of factors, including mismanagement of resources, deforestation and high population growth.

Open-pit mines are regarded as particularly damaging as they often involve clearing thousands of hectares of rainforest, the use of toxic heavy metals and chemicals, and pollution of water resources.

The mining industry has also threatened indigenous tribes in Philippines.

In most cases, once mining has ended a process of land rehabilitation is attempted, which often includes covering it with layers of clay, soil and vegetation.

However, there have been no studies into the long-term success of this method and it may take hundreds or even thousands of years for acid to stop leaching into the surrounding environment.

The Berkeley Pit mine in the United States was closed in 1982 but continues to release dangerous heavy metals and chemicals into the surrounding region.

im (Reuters, AFP)

Topics: Philippines

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