THE RESUMPTION of open-pit mining will ultimately require a “political” decision with the government weighing the need to protect the environment against the desire of mining companies to operate as efficiently as possible, mining regulators said.
“There is a lot of pressure (because) business people have a lot of influence… it’s a political decision. Ultimately, (the) impact will be environmental and social,” Antonio N. Apostol, a head of division at the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) told reporters on the sidelines of a bureau news conference.
The ban on open-pit mining was imposed by former Environment Secretary Regina Paz L. Lopez, an environmental advocate, in April 2017. She was supported by President Rodrigo R. Duterte, who rejected a proposal by the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) to lift the ban in November 2017.
Another mining regulator the lifting of the ban will also depend on the recommendation of the current environment secretary, Roy A. Cimatu.
“It depends on the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) Secretary to convince the President kung ili-lift (if it will be lifted) or not) based on the scientific evidence,” Rodolfo L. Velasco, head of the MGB’s Mine Safety, Environment, and Social Development division.
Mr. Cimatu was asked to comment but had not replied at deadline time.
At the news conference proper in Quezon City, another mining regulator, Teodorico A. Sandoval, described open-pit mining as “economical” from the point of view of miners.
Mr. Sandoval is the MGB’s head of division for mining technology.
Mr. Apostol added that open-pit mining is safer than underground mining, and that the government can easily regulate mining companies since this method is very visible. The visibility of open pits is also a disadvantage because people can see that it is “destroying” the environment.
Mr. Velasco noted that the ban has had a significant impact on the attractiveness of the country for mining investors.
He noted that the most significant project that was put on hold is the $5.9-billion Tampakan project in South Cotabato, touted as one of the largest gold prospects in the world.
The project was rejected by Ms. Lopez in 2016.
Its operator is Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI) which was able to secure declaration of mining feasibility and was steps away from starting operations. — Vincent Mariel P. Galang