Philippines finance minister says mining should be encouraged, not suppressed

Reuters News
Posted: May 11, 2017 2:41 AM

By Manolo Serapio Jr

MANILA (Reuters) - Extractive industries like mining should be promoted, not curbed, the Philippines' finance minister said on Thursday, promising investors there will be no more arbitrary suspensions of operations and more transparency in regulation.

President Rodrigo Duterte's government has been taking a less confrontational stance towards mining after the removal of an environment minister who ordered the closure of more than half the mines in the world's top nickel ore exporter to protect water resources.

Duterte this week replaced environmentalist Regina Lopez with former military chief Roy Cimatu, who said it was possible to balance mining and environmental protection.

"We need to encourage and not suppress extractive industries," Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez told an industry forum.

"They are necessary to help our economy develop, to bring the revenues that government needs, and to create opportunities for the communities that host these industries."

Dominguez said while weak governance has led to environmental destruction, including massive deforestation over the years, "the solution is not to arbitrarily ban extractive industries."

"The solution is to improve governance so that we get the best of both worlds: ensuring the sustainability of our environment on one hand and creating wealth for our people from our natural endowments on the other."

Dominguez was head of a copper and zinc mine in central Philippines in 2006, after cyanide spills shut it for more than a year. He has said he had no mining interests since then.

Dominguez started a second review of the Philippines' mines after Lopez in February ordered the permanent closure of 22 of 41 mines and the suspension of four others for environmental breaches after a months-long audit that miners said they were unable to access.

"Never again should suspensions be meted out on the basis of unseen audits," Dominguez said.

Lopez was removed last week by a panel of lawmakers scrutinizing Duterte's appointments who concluded that she wasn't fit for the job she had held for 10 months.

Duterte, who had backed Lopez's mining crackdown and once declared that the country can survive without a mining industry, said on Wednesday the government cannot scrap an existing mining law, suggesting he is moderating his stance on mining.

(Reporting by Manolo Serapio Jr.; Editing by Richard Pullin)