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Green groups protest open pit mine ban reversal

26 Matulungin St. Central Dist., Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines, 1100
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06 November 2017

Green groups protest open pit mine ban reversal

Environmental network Kalikasan People’s Network for the Enironment (Kalikasan PNE) led peasant and indigenous people’s organizations in a protest action outside the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), calling on the agency to uphold its national ban on prospective open-pit mining projects.

“The reversal of the national open pit mining ban would lead to the commencement of new open-pit mines without the necessary regulatory rigor. This would lead to the wholesale destruction of agricultural lands, watersheds, and other critical ecosystems as we have experienced in abandoned mines from Marinduque to Rapu-Rapu,” said Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.

DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu recently announced that he will accept the recommendation of the Mining Industry Coordinating Council, a multi-stakeholder body mandated to review mining policies and programs, to reverse the ban imposed during the stint of former environment secretary Gina Lopez. Cimatu is set to endorse the MICC’s recommendation in the earliest possible Cabinet meeting of Duterte set this week.

“The past 22 years under the policy framework of the Mining Act of 1995 did nothing to ensure that high-risk projects such as open pit mines are effectively regulated. The fact that the DENR’s national mining audit found 68 percent of commercially operating mines means the country’s mining industry is in no position to safely manage additional open pit mines,” said Bautista.

In August 1996, a year after the Mining Act was passed, the open-pit mine of the Marcopper mining company, now owned by Canadian miner Barrick Gold, caused a massive mine spill that poured 1.6 million metric tons of toxic mine tailings into the Boac River. Water samples in affected river tributaries exhibited heavy metal contamination 1,300 percent above human tolerable levels. A legal case was filed against the company in 2005, but no resolution is still in sight 12 years after.

In 2015, an environmental investigation mission by scientist group AGHAM revealed that the Rapu-Rapu open pit mine in Albay, a flagship project of the previous Arroyo administration, was left unrehabilitated even as its South Korean owner KORES spending all of its P158 million Mining Rehabilitation Fund. Water tests demonstrated continuing toxic acid mine drainage generation in one of the creeks downstream from the abandoned mine, registering extreme acidity with pH levels of 3.25 to 3.42 far exceeding the DENR standards for irrigation.

“Prospective open pit mines also have the bloodiest track records in securing their corporate interests. The Tampakan mining project, the largest mining project in Asia, is also the bloodiest with at least 12 extrajudicial killings of its critics and opponents monitored since 2001. The Tampakan mine is one of the projects that will benefit from the reversal of the open-pit mine ban,” said Bautista.

The groups demanded the Duterte government to reinstitute the open pit mine ban as a moratorium on all new projects using this technology until new mining policy reforms are put in place. They said a comprehensive mining policy proposal, House Bill 2715 or the People’s Mining Bill, is currently pending in Congress and should be prioritized by the government to ensure stronger environmental and socio-economic regulations over open-pit and other large-scale mines.

“No new open pit mine should commence until a new mining policy is put in place. As long as open-pit mining is framed in promoting foreign investments through lax regulations and allowing land and other natural resource grabs, it will always be a destructive endeavor detrimental to our national interest to protect national patrimony and the environment,” ended Bautista.#