Philippines lifts four-year-long ban on new open-pit mines
Published: Dec 29, 2021 07:30 PM
The moon is seen in Batangas Province, the Philippines on Nov 18, 2021.Photo:Xinhua

The moon is seen in Batangas Province, the Philippines on Nov 18, 2021.Photo:Xinhua

The Philippines has lifted a four-year ban on new open-pit mines, an official said Wednesday, in a bid to revitalize the country's coronavirus-battered economy.

The move, slammed by activists as "short-sighted," sees the Philippine government reverse a ban imposed in 2017, when the then-environment minister blamed the sector for widespread ecological damage.

Manila has since reversed course, encouraging mining investments to shore up government revenues as lockdowns and quarantine restrictions ravaged the economy.

In April, President Rodrigo Duterte, who had previously threatened to shut down the sector completely, lifted a nine-year ban on new mining deals set by his predecessor.  

Wilfredo Moncano, director of the Mines and GeoSciences Bureau, told AFP Wednesday that the environment secretary Roy Cimatu had signed an order lifting the ban on open-pit mining.

"We offered the mining [industry] as a potential contributor to the recovery of the economy," Moncano said.

"Once these are commercially producing... these are the ones that will be helping pay our loans to fight the pandemic."

Moncano said about nine prospective mining projects stand to benefit from the order and that the government could generate up to 80 billion pesos ($1.6 billion) in taxes and royalties annually once commercial operations begin.

Open-pit mining directly extracts minerals on the ground and differs from other methods that require tunneling or underground mining.

The Philippines is one of the world' biggest suppliers of nickel ore,copper and gold, but the government estimates 95 percent of its mineral resources remain untapped.

Mining revenues contributed less than 1 percent of GDP to the economy in 2020 according to government data. 

The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines welcomed the decision to lift the ban, saying it "will enable the industry to contribute more to our country's economic recovery."

Anti-mining advocates said the decision was a "short-sighted and misplaced development priority of the government." 

"Once again, the Duterte regime puts more premium to its flawed economic agenda categorizing destructive mining as an 'essential industry' as part of the pandemic recovery," the Alliance to End Mining said in a statement.