Published by MAC on 2016-10-27
Source: Statements, Reuters, Bloomberg, PDI, Sun Star (2016-10-27)
It has been another hectic few weeks with regard to mining in the Philippines, and the Government’s environmental crackdown. The long-awaited environmental audit from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), headed by Gina Lopez, was finally promulgated at the end of September. (see: Philippines: President notes “Mining – My way or the environmental highway”).
It was generally greeted with cheers by civil society watch-dogs, who favourably noted the proposed suspension of almost half of the 41 operating mines (to add to the 10 already suspended). The bulk of firms affected were nickel miners, with many being in the Caraga region. However, some noted that the suspensions only involved notices that asked for set conditions to be applied, otherwise a suspension would commence. Many companies have argued they are already – or at least will be – in compliance, and how many firms will actually be suspended is open for question.
Ms Lopez has indicated her crusade will continue, promising she will place a moratorium on any new mines and ordering the investigation of alleged “midnight deals” involving some officials of her department and mining companies during the last days of the previous administration. The DENR has said it will cancel the license of another nickel miner, Austral-Asia Link Mining in Davao Oriental province, because it is next to protected areas. (Interestingly we believe this is the lease that Anglo-Australian BHP Billiton once co-owned, before withdrawing from the project).
Yet, the industry fight-back continues, with the much-expected first legal challenge to the ongoing suspension orders. The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines called the audit ‘tainted’ because of the inclusion of ‘anti-mining’ civil society groups. (Perish the thought there would be critical, or even independent, voices included!) The odd inconsistency of the DENR nominating some of the suspended companies for environmental awards has also been exposed plain. The obvious concerns around jobs have been aired, although Ms Lopez has reiterated that companies should employ workers on making good environmental failures and/or rehabilitation work.
A particular focus has been on OceanaGold, where the company has claimed to be in a “constructive” dialogue over its own suspension notice, while the local Governor of Nueva Vizcaya has called for unity in communities against the project. This is a request which seems to have been heartily welcomed, with citizen groups requesting the closure of the mine and expulsion of the company. There was also popular support for the people of El Salvador, following the ISDS case (see: OceanaGold loses compensation claim against El Salvador).
The President has continued to support his controversial minister, and talked of the need for a new ‘people-friendly’ mining law.
Outside of this main story, concerns about the human rights situation in the country continues – particularly after the killing of Jimmy Saypan, a noted anti-mining leader from the Compostela Valley. (See: Philippines: Anti-mining leader dies in hospital after gunmen attack).
Coal and climate change has also been making the news, with environmental groups continuing arguing against coal-fired power plants and mines. although President Duterte is saying the Philippines need not follow the rules of “imperialists” by abiding with the Paris Agreement on climate change.
What this will mean in practice is unclear, but – like the roller-coaster ride with regard to regulating the mining industry – it is likely to grab the headlines.