Philippines' Duterte wants mining ban, links miners to destabilization plot

MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday accused some miners of funding efforts to destabilize his government as he talked about a possible plan to impose a ban on mining given the environmental damage producers have caused.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte shows pictures of mines during a news conference in Manila, Philippines March 13, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

Duterte, who has said the Southeast Asian nation can survive without mining, has backed a crackdown on miners by Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Regina Lopez in the world’s top supplier of nickel ore.

Duterte said he was looking at a total mining ban “and then we’ll talk”, referring to miners.

“When it comes to the preservation of my country, the land... I will do what is necessary,” Duterte told a media briefing.

“I know that some of you are giving funding to the other side to destabilize me,” he said, referring to companies in the mining sector he did not name. He did not say how his government was being destabilized, only that there could be efforts to make him “unpopular”.

The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, which groups many large-scale miners, said in a statement it was “unaware of any mining company that is supportive of any destabilization efforts against the administration”.

Duterte has supported Lopez’s Feb. 2 order to shut 23 of the country’s 41 mines to protect watersheds. She suspended another five for environmental infringements and also canceled 75 contracts for undeveloped mines.

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“You think you can live with it (environmental degradation) because of the 70 billion (pesos) or because they contributed to campaign funds? Not me,” Duterte said, while showing pictures of the environmental harm mining has caused.

The mining sector contributes an estimated 70 billion Philippine pesos ($1.39 billion) a year in revenue.

Dante Bravo, president of Global Ferronickel Holdings Inc, the Philippines’ No. 2 nickel ore miner, said he was surprised at Duterte’s comments on his leadership.

“We’re definitely not one of those who would fund such a destabilization effort,” Bravo told Reuters in a text message.

Bravo also said while Duterte is considering a mining ban, he believed the president “is a reasonable man and he’ll follow what’s in the law”.

“The current law allows mining, so we’ll have to take that as the existing regime which the president is mandated to enforce,” said Bravo.

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Miners have complained about Lopez’s mine closure orders, saying they were baseless, did not follow due process and would affect 1.2 million people who depend on mining for their livelihood.

Lopez defended her decisions in Congress last week where lawmakers held a two-day hearing on her appointment. She said her orders were above board and were made to protect functions of watersheds.

Lawmakers will meet on Tuesday before they vote on whether to confirm or reject her appointment in June last year when Duterte took office. In the Philippines, confirmation hearings can take place long after ministers start work.

For a Graphic on Philippine mine closures and policy timeline, click: here

Reporting by Manolo Serapio Jr. and Enrico dela Cruz; Editing by Tom Hogue and Susan Thomas