Commentary: Good local open pit mining models to emulate

It is important to note that open pit mining, or mining per se, is not the only human activity that significantly disturbs the environment and cause pollution. File photo

Commentary: Good local open pit mining models to emulate

Lysander Castillo (Philstar.com) - January 5, 2018 - 11:00am

Despite the protests of anti-mining groups, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu expressed his intention to formally overturn the open pit mining ban shortly after the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) recommended its lifting. Issued by former Secretary Gina Lopez in April, DENR Administrative Order No. 2017-10 specifically prohibits the open pit method of mining for copper, gold, silver and complex ores in the country.

In a sudden policy direction twist, however, President Rodrigo Duterte rejected the MICC recommendation to lift the ban on open pit mining. As an alter ego of the president, Cimatu had to reverse his earlier intention to scrap the ban and tow the administration’s line. Purportedly, the reason behind the president’s decision was due to the huge environmental disturbance the method brings, and perceived to be without any corresponding corrective measures. As a result, the country faced a new year without any policy change on open pit mining.

As regards the concern of Duterte, With such declarations, the president may be coming from a perspective that largely takes into account the so-called “legacy mines,” which indeed brought about destruction of ecosystems and environmental services without any form of mitigation and rehabilitation. Absent any effort to address these abandoned mines, they continue to hound the mining industry.

In analyzing the issue, it is important to note that open pit mining, or mining per se, is not the only human activity that significantly disturbs the environment and cause pollution. Certainly, the development of areas for residential and commercial uses, the clearing of forests to pave way for agriculture, or even commercial fishing, done improperly, will have long-lasting ill effects to the people and their environment.

That said, we can turn to environmental laws to determine if there are enough policies to guard against the adverse impacts of open pit mining. On this note particular provisions of Republic Act No. 7942, or the Mining Act of 1995, are enlightening.

For one, Section 69 on environmental protection is clear, to wit:

Every contractor shall undertake an environmental protection and enhancement program covering the period of the mineral agreement or permit. Such environmental program shall be incorporated in the work program which the contractor or permittee shall submit as an accompanying document to the application for a mineral agreement or permit. The work program shall include not only plans relative to mining operations but also to rehabilitation, regeneration, revegetation and reforestation of mineralized areas, slope stabilization of mined-out and tailings covered areas, aquaculture, watershed development and water conservation; and socioeconomic development.

For another, Section 71 reinforces the need for rehabilitation in any mining project, thus:

Contractors and permittees shall technically and biologically rehabilitate the excavated, mined-out, tailings covered and disturbed areas to the condition of environmental safety, as may be provided in the implementing rules and regulations of this Act. A mine rehabilitation fund shall be created, based on the contractor's approved work program, and shall be deposited as a trust fund in a government depository bank and used for physical and social rehabilitation of areas and communities affected by mining activities and for research on the social, technical and preventive aspects of rehabilitation. Failure to fulfill the above obligation shall mean immediate suspension or closure of the mining activities of the contractor/permittee concerned.

Apart from the implementing rules and regulations that give flesh to the said provisions, Presidential Decree No. 1586, requires mining, being an environmentally critical project, to undertake an environmental impact assessment. Such a process essentially obliges the proponent to identify the impacts of the project to the environment and adopt the corresponding mitigating measures therefor.

With these laws in place, it appears that open pit mining is demonized because of the lack of compliance with the rules and proper enforcement by the government. Among the major concerns about open pit mining are the change in landform, the generation of an acid mine drainage, and the deprivation of water supply. All these, however, can be reversed, mitigated, if not totally avoided, with the proper engineering solutions, using advances in technology.

In fact, the country’s mining industry is replete with examples of successful rehabilitation of open pit or surface mines. Among them are TVI Resource Development’s Canatuan Mine in Zamboanga del Norte, Taganito Mining Corporation’s mine in Claver, Surigao del Norte, that of Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation in Bataraza, Palawan, and the Bulawan and Sibutad Projects in Negros Occidental and Zamboanga del Norte, respectively, of Philex Mining Corporation.   

There is even the Philex-Silangan Project, an example of a mining project that meets the law’s requirements and yet stifled by the open pit ban. With an approved rehabilitation plan and an ISO 14001, this prospective open pit mine fully addresses potential acid rock draining issues. More importantly, the project already has the approval of the LGUs and the affected communities.

With the existence of sufficient environmental regulations and concrete local examples of rehabilitation, there is no reason why the open pit ban should be kept as a policy.


Lawyer Lysander Castillo is an environment fellow at the Stratbase-ADR Institute and the secretary-general of Philippine Business for Environmental Stewardship, or PBEST.

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