Highest standards to be used in open-pit mining: COMP

By Lilybeth Ison

September 7, 2017, 8:17 pm

MANILA -- The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) on Thursday assured that they adhere to highest standards in all the methods they employ in extracting minerals in their respective areas.

"Open pit mining, if done responsibly and rehabilitated properly, can and should still be allowed," said COMP executive director Ronald Recidoro, in response to former Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Regina Lopez that open-pit mining may be cheap, but it does not give companies the right to damage the environment.

"It's (open-pit mining) the cheapest way and because it's the cheapest way, does that give you the right to violate our constitutional right because it's the cheapest way to do it? Why is your right to mine more important to our right to water and life?" said Lopez in a public affairs program aired over a television station.

COMP chairman Gerard Brimo, also president of Nickel Asia Corporation (NAC), however, said that Lopez's point of view "is totally wrong because if she were correct, there would be no open-pit mining anywhere in the world."

"The fact is there are tried and tested ways of rehabilitating open pits as has been done all over the world," he stressed.

Lawyer Francis Ballesteros of Philex Mining, for his part, said that it has been proven globally that an open-pit mine can be rehabilitated.

"Do Filipinos really suffer when mining companies earn more? When companies earn more, they pay more revenue, because that is required by law. When companies earn more, government share is also more. That means more money to spend for the Filipino people," he said.

"The SC (Supreme Court) has spoken and it is the final arbiter of laws. The Mining Act is constitutional.The Mining Act allows open-pit as a method of mining," he added.

Ballesteros, however, agreed that the industry must constantly find innovative ways to sustain their operations and catch up with other countries in terms of adopting international standards on open-pit mining.

Open-pit mining is an internationally accepted method for mining where you extract minerals from the surface.

Experts assured that open pit mining is legal and is a globally accepted method for the effective extraction of mineral ores that can safely be managed and rehabilitated to alternative land use that benefit the host communities.

"Thanks to the more advanced countries where open-pit mining is allowed and technical solutions are now available," said Rolando V. Cuaño, president of BMP Environment & Community Care, Inc.

Speaking at the Mining Conference 2017, Cuaño said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), and Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) must evaluate the design standards and develop a Code of Regulations supported by Advisories or Guidelines and a training program.

"In the United States, they have a code of federal regulations where you have all these design standards for open-pit mining. It forms part of their policy framework... Also, their office of surface mining and reclamation enforcement, they really invested a lot of funds to make open-pit coal mining be better than what it's used to be. It was initially funded with research funds USD15 million for the first five years," he said.

Recidoro said the industry is willing to work with the government in terms of mining regulations, a commitment that also applies to the utilization of the highly scrutinized open-pit mining method.

"We will have to work very closely with Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) to implement mining regulations strictly in all areas of the country, and show that open pit mines can be operated safely and efficiently, and once exhausted, can be rehabilitated and transformed into other land uses like agriculture, forestry, or even eco- tourism," he said.

"Let us just make sure it is done to the best and highest standards," he added.  

Recidoro said that in the Philippines, most ore deposits for copper and nickel are near the surface of the earth and the only way to extract them is through open pit mining.  

To recall, it is now up to the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) whether the country's controversial ban on open-pit mine should be kept or not.

Finance Undersecretary Bayani Agabin earlier confirmed that MICC tasked its Technical Working Group on Economic Affairs and Environment to come up with a study on the said ban.

Meanwhile, Recidoro said COMP is optimistic and ready to move forward in relation to the confirmation of DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu at the Commission on Appointments which is set on Monday.

"We feel that Secretary Cimatu is really studying the issues in the mining sector," he said. (PNA)