Philippines open pit mining ban could be lifted before year end

Camp at Tampakan copper-gold project on Mindanao island, southern Philippines. (Image: Sagittarius Mines.)

Roy Cimatu, Philippines environment and natural resources minister, said on Tuesday he is hopeful that a ban on open-pit mining put in place by his predecessor would be lifted before the end of the year.

Cimatu, a former military chief who replaced staunch environmentalist Regina Lopez in May and was confirmed earlier this month, said he will follow recommendations by the Asian country’s mining regulator published on Tuesday to lift the ban on open cut mining.

The end of the 10-month old ban would revive major planned mines including Philex Mining’s $1.2bn Silangan copper-gold project in Surigao del Norte and the $6bn Tampakan gold-copper project in South Cotabato which has the potential to become the Philippines’ biggest foreign investment.

Sagittarius Mines’s Tampakan was formerly owned by  Glencore, but the Swiss giant walked away in 2015 following an open pit mining ban by South Cotabato authorities five years earlier. Tampakan would be the largest mining operation in the Philippines and one of the biggest copper mines in the world with estimated annual production of 375,000 tonnes of copper and 360,000 ounces of gold over its 17-year life.

Under Lopez’s tenure  more than half the mines in the Philippines, the world’s top nickel ore supplier were either forced to shut down or operations suspended. But the latest customs data show Philippines exports of nickel ore to top consumer China jumped 24% last month.

Reuters reports Lopez, in a Facebook post on Tuesday, said open pit mines pose “very high risks in tropical and archipelagic countries like the Philippines” which regularly endure strong typhoons:

“The Philippines is not a fit and proper place for open pit mining,” she said.