Environment department to open more areas for mining

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The plan to allow more mineral reservation areas runs counter to President Rodrigo Duterte's remarks in the State of the Nation Address last July, where he said stronger restrictions on mining will be imposed.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 31) — In the light of a drop in the country's economic growth, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on Friday said more areas for mining will be opened in the Philippines to help generate non-tax revenues for government.

The plan comes after mining sector regulations such as pit closures, and the excise tax on non-metallic and metallic minerals pulled down the Philippine economy's growth rate to a new three-year low in August, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said.

READ: Boracay closure, mining regulations dampen economic growth

In a statement Friday, DENR Undersecretary for Mining Analiza Rebuelta-Teh said the agency's  Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) is now identifying areas to be declared as mineral reservations: "mineralized areas," "high mineral potential areas," and existing operating mines.

Teh added some sites are already up for endorsement to President Rodrigo Duterte, pursuant to Republic Act 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act.

"The law provides that when the national interest so requires, such as when there is a need to preserve strategic raw materials for industries critical to national development, or certain minerals for scientific, cultural or ecological value, the President may establish mineral reservations upon the recommendation of the MGB Director through the DENR Secretary," Teh said in a Friday statement.

This, however, runs counter to Duterte's remarks in the State of the Nation Address last July, where he said stronger restrictions on mining will be imposed.

READ: Duterte to impose 'restrictive' rules vs. mining companies harming the environment

"To the mining industry, I say this once again and maybe for the last time, do not destroy the environment or compromise our resources; repair what you have mismanaged. Try to change (your) management radically because this time you will have restrictive policies," he earlier said.

Areas declared as mineral reservations will be placed under the jurisdiction of the Philippine Mining Development Corp. (PMDC) to make it revenue generating. The PMDC currently handles the Diwalwal Gold Mining in Compostela Valley and Dinagat Chromite-Nickel Mining projects in the Caraga region.

Teh said DENR's plan to declare more mineral reservations comes after a Commission on Audit (COA) regional office's report found DENR reportedly failed to collect P2.6 billion in royalty fees from five mining companies in Caraga region.

The present mining law requires payment of royalty fees only in areas declared as mineral reservations.

"The five mining companies mentioned in the COA report are operating outside the Surigao Mineral Reservation Area.  Thus, the permits granted to them do not contain any provision for them to pay royalty," Teh explained.

Teh added the DENR proposed to the Department of Finance to include imposing royalty fees on mining firms operating outside mineral reservations in the second package of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law.

"Should an amendatory law be passed, the imposition of royalties on mining operations outside mineral reservations will be applied prospectively," Teh said.