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News > World

Duterte Goes Green? Mining Battle Looms in the Philippines

  • Activists carry placards calling for the passing of the

    Activists carry placards calling for the passing of the "Alternative Minerals Management" mining law during a rally in metro Manila, Philippines, Aug. 25, 2016. | Photo: Reuters

Published 6 February 2017

"Why is mining more important than people's lives?” probed the country’s environmental secretary, Regina Lopez.

In a move to address the environmental and human costs of the mining industry in the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte's secretary of the environment and natural resources, Regina Lopez, has ordered the closure of 23 of 41 of the country’s mines.

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The move has perturbed the mining industry — which has threatened to fight back through legal action.

"My issue here is not about mining, my issue here is social justice," Lopez, a staunch environmentalist, said at a briefing that showed footage of damage from mining activities, especially in Indigenous communities.

"Why is mining more important than people's lives?”

The announcement has raised the price of global nickel prices, as the Philippines is the world’s largest nickel ore exporter. Lopez has also ordered for the suspension of five other mines as well, after having conducted an official standards audit.

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The suspensions include the country's top gold mine, operated by Australia's OceanaGold Corp., which has threatened to take legal action if the mine is closed. The corporation’s CEO, Mick Wilkes, said the decision was unjustified.

"There is no legal basis for any proposed suspension," OceanaGold said in a statement.

Last year, the gold mining giant wrapped up a similar legal battle in El Salvador — and lost. A little-known but controversial World Bank tribunal actually ruled against the corporate power in October 2016, rejecting OceanaGold's claim that El Salvador interfered with its profits when the government pulled the plug on a proposed gold mine back in 2007. 

While the closures and suspensions have the support of President Rodrigo Duterte, the chairman of the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, Artemio Disini, told reporters Friday that his sector will seek to pressure Duterte to overturn the ban, also threatening legal action.

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