MANILA -- Environment chief Roy Cimatu wants unrehabilitated mine areas spared from further environmental degradation.

Some mining areas merely lay wasted, so Cimatu wants these rehabilitated, said Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Undersecretary Jonas Leones over the weekend.

"He said such areas can't be left in that condition," Leones noted.

Erosion, pollution, as well as habitat and biodiversity loss are among mining's environmental impacts that can persist long after the mines' closure, warned experts.

They said rehabilitating mine areas is a precaution against further environmental degradation, a threat to people's health and productivity.

Mine rehabilitation, they said, is the process of restoring a mining area to almost its pre-mining state, preparing this site for productive uses.

"Contractors and permittees shall technically and biologically rehabilitate the excavated, mined-out tailings covered, and disturbed areas to the condition of environmental safety, as may be provided in the implementing rules and regulations of this Act," reads Republic Act 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.

The Act requires rehabilitation of mining areas in the country. 

Leones reiterated mine rehabilitation is among the priorities of DENR under Cimatu.

Earlier, DENR's Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) said 31 mine sites in the country are either abandoned, inactive, or closed.

Bagacay mine in Samar island is one of these, noted MGB.

MGB has started rehabilitating Bagacay mine, which was abandoned in 1992.

Last year, MGB's Region 9 office cited the need to rehabilitate Zambales Base Metals' abandoned mine in Zamboanga City.

"Though the area covered by the company for its copper mine operation may appear to be quite smaller compared to other modern-day mine operations within Zamboanga region, the impact of abandoned mines can be profound and may last for many generations," the bureau warned.

Latest available MGB data show mining companies have committed, as of December 2016, almost PHP25 billion for environmental protection and rehabilitation.

The firms have also committed as of July 2017 around PHP14 billion for social development and management in their respective host communities and neighboring areas.

RA 7942 also requires the creation of a mine rehabilitation fund, based on a mining contractor's approved work program.

The fund "shall be deposited as a trust fund in a government depository bank and used for physical and social rehabilitation of areas and communities affected by mining activities and for research on the social, technical and preventive aspects of rehabilitation," RA 7942 states. (PNA)