Duterte lifts ban on new mines, sparks fears about the environment

A moratorium had been in place since 2012. A third of the Philippines’ land mass has “high mining potential.” The order will lead to more revenue and investment for the country, but environmentalists fear more ecological disasters.

Manila (AsiaNews) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte signed an executive order lifting a moratorium on new mines put in place in 2012 under then President Benigno Aquino III. The freeze was designed to stop environmental disasters caused by reckless exploitation.

Duterte’s order now allows new contracts and the revision of existing ones, and is expected to bring “significant economic benefits.” A few years ago, the government also increased the excise tax on minerals to 4 per cent.

The Philippines is rich in precious minerals (nickel, gold, copper, etc.); at least a third of the country’s land mass has “high mining potential”, this according to  the Mines and Geoscience Bureau (MGB). It is estimated that just over 4 per cent of its mineral reserves have been extracted so far.

In the past, local communities have had to endure oppression and experience several environmental disasters. This led to alliances between environmental groups, human rights organisations and the Catholic Church.

Despite this, MGB director Wilfredo Moncano now believes that many unfinished projects can restart and new mining activities begin.

Under the order, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources will formulate terms and conditions in new mineral agreements and will “strictly implement” mines safety and environmental policies.

Unconvinced environmentalists fear the president’s decree will lead to more disasters. “In the middle of a climate crisis and this pandemic, corporate interests and profit have won again over the welfare and benefits of the many,” reads a statement by the Alyansa Tigil Mina (Stop Mining Alliance).