More provinces considering restrictions on mining

Posted at 04/10/11 1:34 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The provinces of Zamboanga del Norte and Batangas are looking to pass restrictions on mining, approvals of which would add to a raft of hurdles for prospective investors.

The proposals come on top of South Cotabato’s open pit mining ban, the implementing rules for which were signed last month, and existing mining moratoriums approved in other provinces nationwide.

In Zamboanga del Norte, proponents of an open pit mining ban claimed that two projects had led to water pollution and the destruction of agricultural land.

The Canatuan copper/zinc mine of TVI Resource Development (Phils.), Inc. (TVIRD) is being blamed for siltation in the Siocon river while Philex Mining Corp.’s non-operational Sibutad gold mine is allegedly the reason for similar blockages in Murcielagos Bay.

TVIRD rejected the charge and claimed the Canadian-backed miner, via the Canatuan project, had contributed greatly to social development and employment in the host communities.

"Our mining facilities employ over 700 workers and 60% of them are residents of Zamboanga del Norte, while our host indigenous people groups, the Subanon, have been receiving a 3% royalty from our gross operative revenue yearly," TVIRD public affairs director Rocky G. Dimaculangan said last Friday.

Provincial board member Edgar J. Baguio, principal author of the mining ban measure, said he was confident the proposal would be approved by the middle of the year.

"If all systems go well, we hope that this gets passed into law within the year -- sometime in June, July, or August" Mr. Baguio said last Friday, adding that the ban was also aimed at TVIRD’s plans to explore some 8,1000 hectares of land in the municipalities of Polanco and Piñan.

A January draft of the ordinance was signed by all 13 members of the provincial board.

The provincial office of the Mines and Geosciencies Bureau (MGB) called the proposal counterproductive.

"It seems they are passing the open pit mining ban under the guise of protecting waterways and food security, when in fact there has never been a definitive study linking Philex to the siltation in the Murcielagos Bay and TVI to the siltation in Siocon," MGB director Albert Johann B. Jacildo told BusinessWorld on Friday.

"Banning open pit mining would only be counterproductive for Zamboanga del Norte, but it seems as though the entire provincial board supports the ordinance," he added.

The province of Batangas, meanwhile, is considering a 25-year moratorium on large-scale mining. The regional MGB chief claimed its approval would have an extensive impact.

Mining ventures to be affected include those of Mindoro Resources Ltd. (MRL), Gold Fields Ltd., Crazyhorse Resources, Inc., and Asturias Mining Corp., MGB Calabarzon director Samuel T. Paragas also said on Friday.

It would also affect existing cement, sand and gravel business in the province, he said, hitting the entire region’s construction and manufacturing industry.

"There will be a multiplier effect throughout the region if this ban gets passed," Mr. Paragas said.

A representative of the proposed environment code’s principal author, provincial board member Christopher S. de Leon, expressed confidence that the local law would be passed soon.

"We expect the code to be signed by Governor Vilma Santos-Recto by June after the Sangguniang Panlalawigan votes to pass the draft -- and they will," Mr. de Leon’s chief of staff, Arnel V. Arevalo, told BusinessWorld on Tuesday.

A mining moratorium is already in effect in Batangas City, which Mr. Paragas said was affecting an MRL project.

"They should at least allow exploration to find out whether there are minerals in the area, then from there, discuss the options available for the province," he added.

MGB chief Leo L. Jasareno said the agency maintained that local governments had no power to bar mining ventures that are allowed by the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.

"While the act does not say anything about specific mining methods, the implementing rules and regulations of the law clearly gives the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) the power to determine which method is acceptable for a proposed mining project," Mr. Jasareno said on Tuesday.

"We have the mining engineers, geologists, and environmental scientists to help us determine the feasibility and environmental effects of a mining project; LGUs don’t have this capacity," he said.

This, however, has not prevented provinces such as Romblon, Mindoro Oriental, and Western Samar from approving mining moratoriums, Mr. Jasareno admitted.