Philippines president-elect Duterte warns miners on threatening the environment

Philippine president-elect Rodrigo Duterte speaks during his election victory celebration in Davao City on June 4, 2016.
Philippine president-elect Rodrigo Duterte speaks during his election victory celebration in Davao City on June 4, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

DAVAO (Bloomberg) - Philippine president-elect Rodrigo Duterte has warned mining companies whose operations threaten the environment to either upgrade their practices or face closure.

"Mining people must shape up," Mr Duterte told supporters on Saturday (June 4) at a Davao City concert celebrating his May 9 election victory. Much of what they do now, he said, "especially in Surigao", is problematic. "They have to stop. They are spoiling the land. They are destroying Mindanao."

Mindanao, Mr Duterte's home and the second-largest Philippine island, is estimated to sit on US$300 billion worth of mineral deposits, from nickel, copper to gold. The region is mostly undeveloped due to a combination of government neglect and decades of insurgency from leftists and Islamic separatists.

The Surigao region, comprising two provinces, is one of the more heavily mined areas in Mindanao, home to the nation's Muslims. Surigao has been hit by calamities that environmentalists say were exacerbated by mining.

It is one of Mindanao's oldest port areas, created during the Spanish colonization, and has abundant mineral reserves including gold, iron, manganese, silica, cobalt, copper and chromite, and has one of the world's largest nickel deposits in Nonoc Island.

The development of Mindanao's mineral deposits must be reserved for locals of the island, and the projects should be run like cooperatives supported by government, rather than by big companies, Duterte said.

"Miners of these deposits must come from Mindanao," Mr Duterte said. "And we will support them, give them instructions on how not to spoil the land. Mindanao's poor should be given first crack. All large mining operations will have to stop.  I have a big problem with mining companies. They are destroying the soil of our country."

Mr Duterte, the former mayor of Davao City, will take office on June 30 for a six-year term, replacing President Benigno Aquino, who is constitutionally limited to a single term.