Despite President Rodrigo Roa Duterte's decision to lift the moratorium on new mining operations, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has vowed to scrutinize pending applications for mineral agreements to ensure that they will not pose adverse effects to the environment.

“There is no automatic approval even if these mining applicants submit all the requirements,” Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu stressed in light of President Duterte's issuance of Executive Order (EO) 130 that lifted the ban on new mining agreements in the country.

EO 130, signed by President Duterte last April 14, amended Section 4 (Grant of Mineral Agreements Pending New Legislation) of EO 79 issued by former President Benigno Aquino III in 2012.

Cimatu said pending applications will only be approved by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) after a thorough review and validation of the Final Exploration Report and Mining Feasibility Studies, among others.

The Final Exploration Report, which will be validated by the MGB Central Office, should show that the delineated mineral resources and reserves are plentiful to last at least a 10-year mine life or commercial extraction life for metallic minerals and seven years for non-metallic.

Meanwhile, the Mining Feasibility Study should show that the cost to develop the mine can pay for all the costs related to the mining operation including operating cost, administration overhead, and milling cost if there is a processing plant, environmental cost, social development cost, and safety and health cost.

Aside from these, the company should also have the financial capability to pay national and local taxes, royalties, local government fees, other national government fees, and interest and charges on loans.

Cimatu stressed that if the feasibility studies show less than ideal returns from the operation, then the application will not be approved.

"It is also possible that new requirements will come up based on the newly issued Order. The MGB-DENR-Department of Finance Working Group is set to convene to draft the Implementing Rules and Regulations of EO 130," he said.

Moreover, applicants should prove that the benefits of the mining operation, which is a national interest, will far outweigh the risks from adverse environmental effects.
Cimatu said the DENR has already put in place additional environmental measures to ensure a balance in the care for the environment and the economic and social concerns of the mining industry.

In 2018, Cimatu issued Administrative Order 2018-19 to provide new environmental policies that will ensure sustainable environmental conditions at every stage of the mining operation and minimize the disturbed area of a mining project at any given time.

Other environmental measures required from mining companies include the prohibition of developing or opening new areas until the mined-out areas have been progressively rehabilitated; rehabilitation of areas should have the desired slope of not more than 50 percent slope (or 45 degrees) and proper drainages; and establishment of buffer zones or no mining zones to provide a buffer between the mining operations and rivers, and other important structures.

Mining companies are also required to establish a progressive rehabilitation fund with a minimum amount of P5 million, as well as pay the mine waste and tailings fee based on the amount of tonnage of mine wastes and tailings that the company generates every semester.

These fees will be for the payment of damages caused by a leak of tailings pond or mine waste to the adjoining lands.

The mining companies also have to deposit the initial fund, an average of 8 percent, of the cost of the Final Mine Rehabilitation and Decommissioning Plan even before the mines can start commercial operation.

The MGB has issued 309 mineral production sharing agreements (MPSAs) all over the country.

Of the total, 51 MPSAs are in Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur, Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, and Dinagat Islands in Caraga.

Forty (40) MPSAs are in Zambales (Central Luzon), 36 in Calabarzon, 32 in Central Visayas, 26 in Bicol region, and 19 in Samar and Leyte (Western Visayas).

Eighteen (18) MPSAs issued in Davao Region were mostly inside and surrounding the Diwalwal Mineral Reservation.

The rest of the MPSAs are spread in other regions. ###