Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Gina Lopez on Tuesday ordered the cancellation of mining contracts in watershed areas, taking another bold step in protecting resources from extraction after earlier shutting more than half of the country's mines.
The total mining contracts to be rescinded is 75.
Of the 75, majority of the canceled mining contracts are from Mindanao at 37. In Luzon and Visayas 27 and 11 mineral production sharing agreements (MPSA) are canceled, respectively.
An MPSA is a contract specifying that the government, as owner of the minerals, reserves the right to have a share in the production of the contractor, in cash or in kind. In return, the contractor provides the financing, technology, management, and personnel for the mining project.
According to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), companies whose MPSAs were canceled will be given show-cause orders and have seven days to explain why their mining contracts should not be scrapped.
The contracts are all in watershed zones, with many in the exploration stage. They cover projects not yet in production and the latest action by Lopez suggests she will not allow them to be developed further.
Bias for social justicce
"You kill watershed, you kill life," Lopez told a media briefing.
A long-time environmentalist, Lopez ordered the closure of 23 of the Philippines' 41 mines on Feb. 2 for damaging watersheds and for siltation of coastal waters and farmlands. Another five mines were suspended, causing an outcry from the industry.
Lopez noted that the show-cause orders will be released today or tomorrow for all companies with cancelled MPSAs.
“I have a bias. I do. I have a bias for social justice and common good,” the Environment chief emphasized, justifying her latest action.
Sec @iamGinaLopez: I have a bias. I do. I have a bias for social justice and common good.— DENR (@DENR_Official) February 14, 2017
The contracts ordered canceled on Tuesday include the $5.9 billion Tampakan copper-gold project in South Cotabato province in Mindanao island, the biggest stalled mining venture in the Southeast Asian country.
Tampakan failed to take off after the province where it is located banned open-pit mining in 2010, prompting commodities giant Glencore Plc to quit the project in 2015.
"We're canceling this as a gift of love to the people of Cotabato," Lopez said.
Some miners facing a shutdown of their operations have threatened legal action, with some miners saying on Tuesday they have received a formal closure order from the environment agency.
Top Philippine nickel ore producer Nickel Asia Corp said it "will pursue all legal remedies to overturn the said order because of due process violations and the absence of any basis" that would warrant a suspension or closure of operations of its unit Hinatuan Mining Corp.
Hinatuan was told that its operation has "impaired the functions of the watershed in the area," according to a copy of the closure order.
The decision to close or suspend existing mine operations followed a months-long audit of the mines, although a government team that reviewed the audit recommended only suspensions and fines.
President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday said he would not stand in the way of Lopez's decision to shut several mines in southern Philippines, the second time he has thrown his support behind the minister he appointed last June. — With Reuters/Ted Cordero/VDS, GMA News