Half the nation’s mines were shut last month; foreign firms consider moving
When mining investors talk of the Philippines, they often boast of its wealth of untapped mineral reserves. But as one political controversy after another rocks the industry, miners are beginning to worry that’s all they will ever be: untapped.
In one fell swoop, the Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) shut down more than half of all operating mines last month. According to Secretary Gina Lopez, its audit found “serious environmental violations” in 23 of the country’s 41 mines. The department also cancelled contracts for 75 mining projects still in their exploration stages. The projects are located in watersheds; Lopez said they never should have been approved to begin with.
Miners are up in arms, not only about the orders, but the way in which they are being carried out. They say their supposed violations haven’t been made clear and argue that they should be given the chance to address any issues.
Much of their criticism focuses on Lopez herself, a staunch environmentalist who famously claimed she was so against mining that she didn’t even keep a pot in her house. She has justified keeping the findings confidential saying they are “too complicated”. She has also admitted her own audit team only recommended fining the companies, but she felt that was not enough.
“As we have feared, her recent actions have been influenced by her prejudices,” said the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines. But Lopez enjoys broad support beyond the miners – the Church, environmental groups, even the president have all backed her.
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