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Philippine miners say gov’t shutdown order ‘illegal’

A miner hauls unprocessed rock from the seabed onto the beach in Leyte. (Image: Luc Forsyth)

The Philippines mining industry is fighting the government’s recent decision to close more than half the country’s mines and reduce nickel ore exports, saying it’s “illegal and unfair.”

According to the country’s Chamber of Mines, the order to close 23 of the nation’s 41 mines and suspend another five not only did not follow standard legal procedures, but used alleged breaches of environmental and welfare rules as an excuse to go after all mining companies.

Should the government go ahead with all the recommended shutdowns and suspensions, global supply of nickel will drop by about 8%.

“[Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Regina Lopez] violated due process – which is an inherent part of the rule of law – and did not give proper notice by consistently refusing to release the results of the audit to the affected parties,” Artemio Disini, chairman of the chamber said in a statement quoted by Reuters. “Her actions have finally revealed her true bias: to stop all mining in the Philippines.”

Last week, the industry body had said that the team who reviewed an audit of the mines recommended suspension of operations and payment of fines for environmental violations, but never closure.

Lopez, a well-known environmentalist, began last summer an audit of all mining operations. By October she had already shut down more than 40 mines, nine of them nickel producers, which sent the metal prices skyrocketing.

Her stance on mining is backed by President Rodrigo Duterte, sworn in as the Philippines president only seven months ago. Since he took power, 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.

On Monday, nickel rose again to a three-week high and was trading up 0.92% at $10,375 per tonne in London mid-morning.

The nickel market was also rocked last month when Indonesia abruptly announced a partial lifting of the ban allowing exports of up to 5.2 million tonnes of nickel ore in 2017.

The Philippines is the world’s largest nickel producer and exporter. Should the government go ahead with all the recommended shutdowns and suspensions, global supplies of the metal, used in the making of stainless steel, will drop by about 8%.