Philippines' House Speaker wants Congress to license new miners

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines’ newly elected House Speaker said on Monday he wants new mining companies to get a legislative license before they are allowed to operate in the country as part of efforts to protect the environment.

Pantaleon Alvarez, a close ally of President Rodrigo Duterte, also said he will revive a proposed measure that will require miners to process their ores locally before they are shipped overseas to help create jobs domestically.

“Their activities would be subject to legislative oversight and their franchises can be revoked by the oversight body... if they violate the terms and conditions (of the franchise),” Alvarez said in a speech after he was elected speaker on Monday.

His pronouncement follows a nationwide crackdown on all miners operating in the Philippines led by the new mining minister, Regina Lopez, an anti-mining advocate. Since assuming office, the country has ordered the suspension of three nickel ore mines for environmental violations and ordered a moratorium on new mines while existing projects are reviewed.

Duterte, who began a six-year term on June 30, has warned he could cancel mining projects causing environmental harm, suggesting a tough regulatory road ahead for Philippine miners.

Ronaldo Recidoro, the spokesman of the industry group Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, said Alvarez’ plan would be a bigger disincentive to smaller miners than large-scale ones.

He said there was no need for additional environmental safeguards because the existing mining law is adequate.

“More than adding steps, they should increase the budget of the (regulator) or create a department that separates environment from natural resources,” Recidoro said.

The country’s mining sector, one of the world’s largest in the 1970s, has since struggled partly due to environmental rules and policy flip flops, missing much of the mining boom in recent decades and now is dealing with much lower commodity prices.

Reporting by Karen Lema and Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Christian Schmollinger