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Miners want to know: why the shutdown?

Mining chamber files FOI request for audit results

Earlier this February, Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Gina Lopez ordered for the permanent shut down of 23 mines.

The decision followed a sweeping audit of 41 mines by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources, and a multisectoral review of the audit, which did not recommend closure, and instead called for an imposition of suspensions and fines.

Lopez’s hardline stance stems from her belief that no mining should be done in watersheds at all, and downplays all counsel to the contrary.

Only 15 of the 23 mines Lopez ordered closed are located in watersheds, however. None of these watersheds enjoy legal protection under the purview of the pertinent law, the Philippine Mining Act, which does not prohibit mining in all watersheds, but only in proclaimed watershed forest reserves, such as La Mesa and other dams.

She defended closing the other mines located in areas that are not functioning watersheds by saying that the region they were located in–Caraga–deserves the right to breathe.  

“At the end of that day, even that review process is recommendatory to me,” Lopez said on the ABC show, “Market Edge with Cathy Yang”.

“I still make the decisions and my decision on no mining in watersheds, I don’t see that as changing because water is life,” she said.

The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines said that the order was  “quite a shock to everybody in the industry.” The organization announced that it will be filing a freedom of information request for the results of the mining audit.

The implication of this is that the mines have failed a test that they did not know about, and–as of the announcement–have yet to know what they scored.

Lopez has stated that the audit results and the review–which she freely admits she did not agree with–are public and have been released.

The order leaves many questions in its wake. Will the undermanned unproductive mine sites be vulnerable to attacks by the fighters of the New People’s Army, or armed bandits? Will the mines closure result in a rise in unemployment, or an increase in illegal mining, or even criminality in the surrounding communities? Will the government, or the renewable energy industries, find new employment for the terminated workers?

All this aside, Secretary Lopez has backing from the top. President Rodrigo Duterte has thrown his support behind Lopez’s decision, and has stated that the Philippines can survive without a mining industry. The mining industry accounts for about 1% of Philippine GDP, but because the country is the number one exporter of nickel, mining shutdowns here might affect the world economy.