Miners riled by Manila's plan to cancel 75 contracts

At the press briefing, Ms Lopez also said she would cancel the environmental compliance certificate of a planned Tampakan copper and gold project. This month, Environment Secretary Gina Lopez ordered the closure of 23 existing mines, including this n
This month, Environment Secretary Gina Lopez ordered the closure of 23 existing mines, including this nickel-ore mine in northern Philippines run by Zambales Diversified Metals Corporation, and the suspension of five others. She said the mines illegally encroached on watersheds, leaked waste into rivers and destroyed trees.PHOTOS: REUTERS
At the press briefing, Ms Lopez also said she would cancel the environmental compliance certificate of a planned Tampakan copper and gold project. This month, Environment Secretary Gina Lopez ordered the closure of 23 existing mines, including this n
At the press briefing, Ms Lopez also said she would cancel the environmental compliance certificate of a planned Tampakan copper and gold project. PHOTOS: REUTERS

But Environment Secretary insists that projects threaten water supply and quality

MANILA • Mining firms in the Philippines have voiced outrage over government plans to cancel nearly one-quarter of the nation's contracts, plus a permit to exploit one of the world's largest known copper deposits.

Environment Secretary Gina Lopez announced on Tuesday that she would cancel 75 of the nation's 311 mining contracts, as well as the environmental compliance certificate of a planned US$5.9 billion (S$8.4 billion) Tampakan copper and gold project.

She reasoned that the 75 mineral production sharing agreements are located in watershed zones and developing them would threaten water supply and quality in those areas.

The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines said it would fight Ms Lopez's decision, warning that it threatened US$22 billion worth of projects. The contracts are for projects in the pipeline but are not yet operating.

"She's out to kill the industry. We do not see a future for us under her," Mr Ronald Recidoro, the chamber's vice-president for legal and policy affairs, said yesterday.

"Her announcement was bloody in all aspects."

BILLION-DOLLAR INDUSTRY

She's out to kill the industry. We do not see a future for us under her.

MR RONALD RECIDORO, vice-president for legal and policy affairs of the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines , on the group's plan to fight Ms Lopez's decision.

Ms Lopez, who was appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte last year, has railed against what she insists are the environmentally destructive and exploitative practices of local and foreign miners.

Mr Duterte yesterday backed her decision - which the industry has said will affect 1.2 million people - saying it was based on law.

"Water is life. If you put at risk the water supply of the community there, you are putting at risk the quality of life of the people," Ms Lopez said on Tuesday.

This month, Ms Lopez also ordered the closure of 23 existing mines and the suspension of five others, saying they illegally encroached on watersheds, leaked waste into rivers and destroyed trees.

The Philippines is the world's top supplier of nickel ore and the main exporter to China, and the Philippine government's actions have impacted global metal prices.

Ms Lopez said mining companies would be given seven days to explain themselves before the cancellation of the contracts would be carried out.

However, the mining industry has warned it will exhaust all legal measures to fight her moves, which are widely expected to be brought before the Supreme Court.

Mining firms accused Ms Lopez of breaching contracts and asked Congress on Tuesday to reject her confirmation as environment secretary.

The Tampakan copper-gold project in southern Philippines had already been stalled by regulation hurdles, including a local government ban on open-pit mining.

Mr Recidoro warned that Tuesday's announcement would be a huge blow for the local economy.

"This will lead to the loss of what will probably be the biggest employer in the area," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 16, 2017, with the headline 'Miners riled by Manila's plan to cancel 75 contracts'. Print Edition | Subscribe