Philippines delays environment minister nomination approval over mining woes

On Wednesday, Philippine lawmakers deferred their expected appointment confirmation of the country’s environment and natural resources minister Roy Cimatu amid pressures from pro-mining groups hurt by policies put in place by the previous secretary and which he has vowed to keep in place.

Former minister Lopez had to leave the post after the same legislative panel that delayed Cimatu’s confirmation rejected her appointment.

Cimatu, a former general who replaced ousted ecologist Regina Lopez in May, has said he would review all evidence brought forward by mining companies before deciding whether to keep, modify, or reverse his predecessor's orders.

He has also said he is in no rush to revoke one of Lopez’s most contested rules — a ban on open pit mining imposed in April as part of an anti-pollution crackdown. The prohibition only affects projects, not mines currently in operations. However, its continuity threatens major planned mines including Philex Mining’s $2bn Silangan copper-gold project in Surigao del Norte, and Sagittarius Mines’s $5.9bn Tampakan gold-copper project in South Cotabato, which has the potential to become the Philippines' biggest foreign investment.

Cimatu told lawmakers Wednesday he is a fair man, and that he will make science-based decisions while in office, Philippines-based news site Rappler reported.

Former minister Lopez had to leave the post after the same legislative panel that delayed Cimatu’s confirmation rejected her appointment. All ministerial nominations in the country, the world's top nickel ore supplier, go through a similar process.