The past year’s massive anti-mining drive by the Philippines government has wreaked havoc on the local sector. With the latest example being Australian miner Greenstone Resources this week saying it will suspend a gold project in country — even though the operation passed a controversial environmental audit.
And with regulatory uncertainty driving investment out the country, a backlash appears to on. With some of the Philippines’ highest officials this week throwing out new rules against mining.
That move came from the Executive Secretary of the Philippines national Cabinet, Salvador Medialdea. Who issued an order this week overturning a directive from Environment Secretary Gina Lopez, governing a proposed trust fund for companies exporting minerals.
Lopez had previously ordered exporting companies to establish a trust of 2 million pesos ($40,000) per hectare of mined land — with that money to be held for reclamation expenses. Under the rules, any companies that failed to deposit the cash would be barred from exporting ore stockpiles.
But Lopez said at a press conference yesterday that Executive Secretary Medialdea has now nullified the trust fund rules. As she noted, “Medialdea said that they [mining companies] can now remove the stockpiles… He counteracted each and every order in all areas and I can’t do anything about it.”
This is one of the first instances of Lopez’ aggressive anti-mining policies being challenged by Philippines lawmakers. And shows that her power as Environment Secretary may be diminishing, as economic losses mount across the mining industry.
In fact, speculation has emerged in recent weeks that Lopez could be completely removed from her position. With a confirmation hearing scheduled for her in May — which she says she is “not confident at all” will see her keep her job.
Notably absent in these events has been Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte. Who was initially a vocal supporter of Lopez — and opponent of the mining industry — but has said nothing in the face of the recent policy reversal on the trust fund.
His silence could signal Duterte is losing his will to battle miners, as economic realities set in. Watch to see if he will attempt to support Secretary Lopez, or leave her fate to other lawmakers when the May confirmation hearings arrive. If she goes, the troubled Philippines mining sector could get a boost overnight.
Here’s to knowing your friends.
By Dave Forest
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