Climate and Environment

Resumption of open-pit mining short-sighted and dangerous, environmental groups say

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Resumption of open-pit mining short-sighted and dangerous, environmental groups say
A huge lagoon of copper mine tailings are impounded in containment area that used to be an open pit mine of the Marcopper Mining Corporation in this town in central Marinduque island 30 March 1996. The waste pit said to contain about 30 million tons of copper mine waste spilled through a sealed underground tunnel into Boac river 24 March killing all aquatic life.
AFP/Romeo Gacad

MANILA, Philippines — The Duterte administration's decision to lift a four-year-old ban on open-pit mining is a "short-sighted" policy reversal that may lead to further degradation of the environment, green groups said.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources issued on December 23 an order lifting the nationwide ban on the open pit method of mining for copper, gold, silver and complex ores. The ban was imposed in 2017 when the agency was led by Regina Lopez, an anti-mining advocate whose appointment the congressional Commission on Appointments rejected.

The lifting of the ban is seen to revitalize the mining industry and bring more money into the Philippines after the economic slowdown brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

President Rodrigo Duterte lifted a nine-year-old ban on new mining agreements in April.

In a statement, Alyansa Tigil Mina called the move 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 group said.

In a statement, the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines said that "open pit mines can be operated safely, according to globally accepted standards, and can be rehabilitated properly in a manner that provides alternative and productive land use after the life of the mine.”

Devastation of watersheds, risk of contamination

Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment stressed that open-pit mining is responsible for the devastation of watersheds in areas heavily affected by Typhoon Odette (Rai) such as Caraga, Negros island and the Central Visayas.

"For the past 26 years, our poverty rates have only worsened while mining revenue steadily increased. We are left with areas like the Marcopper open pit mines, forever scarred and polluted, unfit for human life," Kalikasan-PNE said.

In 1996, a drainage tunnel in Marcopper Mining Corporation’s Taipan pit in Marinduque burst, flooding villages and killing aquatic life.

Under the new department order, proponents must ensure that the surface mining method will not pose hazards to public health and safety, and will not release hazardous chemicals into the environment.

The environmental groups said the government's policy reversals on mining should serve as an eye-opener for environmentalists to be more active in the coming elections "to champion the reinstatement of the open pit mining ban and the moratorium on new mining projects." — with report from The STAR/Catherine Talavera




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