Philippines' Duterte tells mining companies to 'shape up'

Rodrigo Duterte speaks during a news conference in Davao city in southern Philippines June 2, 2016. REUTERS/Lean Daval

DAVAO, Philippines (Reuters) - Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte warned mining companies to “shape up”, as he signaled he would prefer ownership of mining assets to be left to local investors.

He also said the incoming government may rewrite rules to limit environmental degradation in the sector.

Duterte, who assumes office on June 30, has named nearly all his cabinet members this week but has yet to appoint a new minister that will oversee the Southeast Asian country’s mining sector.

The country has among the largest untapped mineral resources in the region but years of opposition from the Catholic Church and a strong anti-mining lobby, as well as insurgency and widespread corruption, have stalled many projects including the $5.9 billion gold-copper Tampakan project in the southern Mindanao island discovered in 1991.

“I have a big problem with mining companies. They are destroying the soil of our country,” Duterte told a crowd of more than 100,000 in Davao celebrating his May 9 election victory.

“The mining people must shape up. It has to stop. The spoiling of the land, the destroying of Mindanao.”

Swiss giant Glencore quit the Tampakan project in 2015, with the venture halted by a ban on open-pit mining in Mindanao’s South Cotabato province imposed from 2010. A local company has taken over the project.

Duterte signaled that ownership of mining companies may be best be left to locals.

“I want it to be a cooperative of all Filipinos. We will support them and give them instructions how not to end up spoiling the land, he said.

Writing by Manolo Serapio Jr.; Editing by Alison Williams