International mining companies, including those in Canada, are waiting for moves to be taken by the Philippine government under President Rodrigo Duterte.
Duterte’s actions may have a huge impact on mineral exploration in the Philippines.
After winning the last election in May 2016, the former Davao City mayor said that mining companies need to “shape up”.
The tough-talking politician also said that he wants mining resources in the Philippines to be owned by Filipino companies, not foreign firms.
Duterte also appointed environmentalist Regina Lopez to head the country’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Lopez is a known anti-mining advocate, and has been involved in quarrels with big mining companies because of her strong statements against the industry.
The appointment of Lopez as natural resources and environment secretary has reportedly alarmed some players in the mining industry in the Philippines.
According to the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC), an industry group, Canadian mining companies in the Philippines are not worried.
“PDAC supports responsible mineral exploration and mining everywhere in the world, including the Philippines and the rest of Southeast Asia,” said PDAC executive director Andrew Cheatle in a statement cited in a report by the Vancouver Sun.
“Each is expected to observe the highest environmental and social responsibility standards. … We fully support responsible exploration and improved regulatory processes in the Philippines,” Cheatle also said.
There are 10 Canadian mining companies doing business in the Philippines.
In the same report, the Vancouver Sun quoted Dave Forest, managing geologist for the Pierce Points resource-industry newsletter, saying that Lopez’s views on open-pit mining “horrific” evidence that the Filipino minister has taken one of the strongest anti-mining stances ever by a government official.
Lopez’s tenure at the natural resources and environment department could put the industry at risk, Forest said in an analysis cited by the paper.
“Strong anti-mining sentiment seems to be permeating all levels of authority in the country,” Forest wrote, adding that foreign mining operations may soon face full-scale reviews if violations are discovered. “Here’s to knowing when to fold ’em.”
A 1996 mine disaster on the island of Marinduque is often cited as one of the major catalysts of anti-mining sentiment in the Philippines. The incident led to a lawsuit against then-Vancouver-based Placer Dome. According to the Vancouver Sun, Placer Gold was purchased by Barrick Gold in 2006, and the enterprise no longer operates in the Philippines.
Cheatle said in the report that Vancouver-based B2Gold recently received accreditation as fully compliant with Philippines regulations at its Masbate mine.
“Canada is proudly recognized as being the global leader when it comes to mineral exploration and mining,” Cheatle said. “PDAC has high expectations for all its members to meet any regulatory requirements made of them.”
In the middle of his presidential campaign, Duterte expressed support for mining, provided that companies follow “responsible” mining.
According to Duterte, mining companies should follow the environmental standards set by countries like Australia and Canada, or else, suffer sanctions.
After his election, Duterte reiterated his position about responsible mining.
Lopez has been quoted as saying there is no such thing as responsible mining.
“If there is responsible mining why is it that wherever there is mining, there is poverty?” she said. “The poorest sites in the country are mining areas.”
Lopez had said in the past that for mining to be called responsible, “you have to have the highest standards,” referring to the mining companies’ supposed adherence to ISO 14001 Certification as a measure of responsible mining.
In one of her interviews, Lopez said of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, it is “unfair” because it is “skewed towards the mining sector, and not towards our people”.
“You cannot build an economy, a company based on suffering. I will not allow it to happen in DENR,” she said.
On her first day in office, Lopez ordered an audit of all mining companies in the country, and has since suspended at least four of these.