Only Duterte Can Stop Philippine Mining Shutdowns, Says Official Who Ordered It

  • Gina Lopez sticks to guns as mining council reviews order
  • Only President can tell me what to do, Lopez tells briefing

Only President Rodrigo Duterte or the Philippine courts can stop a directive to shut more than half the nation’s metallic mines, according to Gina Lopez, the environment secretary who has ordered the closures.

“It’s going to be very difficult to move me,” Lopez said Thursday after a meeting of the mining council that she co-heads with Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez. The Mining Industry Coordinating Council, composed of cabinet officials and industry representatives, can only make recommendations and is “not in a position to tell me what to do,” she said.

Gina Lopez. Photographer: Jay Directo/AFP via Getty Images

Gina Lopez.

Photographer: Jay Directo/AFP via Getty Images

Lopez’s orders to shut or suspend 28 operations in the world’s top exporter of nickel are being reviewed by the council amid protests from miners and concerns over the economic impact. The closure orders will remain in place while the council consults with stakeholders, including local communities, said Lopez, whose department has audited the mining industry on environmental and social welfare grounds.

The instructions to halt or suspend operations have now been sent by the environment department and mining companies can continue operations if they appeal against the orders, Lopez said, criticizing the process. “We’re just becoming more and more bureaucratic. We’re stalling. My hope is the decision is made before the mining season starts,” she said.

The council’s review gives companies an opportunity to address the allegations that caused the closure or suspension orders, Artemio Disini, chairman of the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, said Friday in a statement, adding that miners “demand” to see the results of Lopez’s audit. “This also means these mines will remain operational and relieve fears of our communities and employees,” he said.

Supreme Court

The global nickel market has been tracking Lopez’s plan, which was unveiled last week. The worry is that closures will hurt supplies from a nation that accounts for about a quarter of the world’s nickel ore. Duterte said on Feb. 2 that he supports Lopez’s shutdowns. He hasn’t addressed the issue since, although his spokesman has said miners should be allowed to dispute her order.

The Philippines’ Supreme Court will be the final arbiter of whether a mine will close, if appeals to Lopez, Duterte and lower courts fail, according to the mining chamber’s vice president, Ronald Recidoro.

“Over and above that, clearly there was grave abuse of authority,” he said at a forum Friday. “We can legally argue there was grave abuse of authority owing to lack of due process.”

It’s a claim previously rebutted by Lopez. “I have documents, signatures, files to prove that I followed due process,” she said Thursday, adding that consultation as part of the council’s review is provided under the law. “I have made my decision. The only one who can tell me what to do is the president.”

— With assistance by Clarissa Batino, Cecilia Yap, and Norman P Aquino

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