Philippines to expand mining ban to watershed areas, ore exports

The Philippines may soon toughen up its already hard-core stance on mining by banning the activity in watershed areas, blocking the export of unprocessed minerals and forcing companies to seek legislative approval before operating.

The fresh restrictions, contained in a 16-page bill authored by 22 congressmen and filed Friday, include shortening the duration of mineral agreements from 25 years to 10 years, and demanding firms to rehabilitate mined areas within 10 years of the expiration of their permit, local paper reports.

The country is the world's top nickel ore supplier and its mineral riches are said to be worth about $1.4 trillion, but mining contributes a mere 0.7% to its GDP.

"Hopefully, this creates a more rigid and transparent process which weeds out the undeserving companies from securing a mining permit," the lawmakers wrote.

The country is the world's top nickel ore supplier but President Rodrigo Duterte says miners don’t pay enough taxes to compensate mining communities that suffer environmental damage.

According to Pantaleon Alvarez, the speaker of the House of Representatives who led the bill, the Philippines’ mineral riches are worth about $1.4 trillion. However, mining barely contributes to the country’s coffers, representing a mere 0.7% of the GDP.

Since taking power last year, Duterte has made it clear that he wants his country to pursue stricter mining standards. If doing so implies shutting down all operations, Duterte has said he’s willing to do so.

Under his direction, former Natural Resources Secretary Regina Lopez began auditing all mining operations in the country shortly after her appointment, accusing miners of violating environmental laws, revoking permits and effectively shutting more than half Philippines’ mines.

Mounting pressure from pro-mining groups hurt by Lopez’ several measures aimed at decreasing the extraction of riches in the country to reduce environmental damage, forced the government to sack her in May.

Her successor, Roy Cimatu, has so far showed no interest in reversing any of her measures, including a polemic ban on open pit mining imposed in April.

The current ban on open pit mining 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.