Philippines' Duterte orders reforestation, threatens open pit mining ban

FILE PHOTO: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announces the disbandment of police operations against illegal drugs at the Malacanang palace in Manila, Philippines early January 30, 2017. REUTERS/Ezra Acayan/File Photo

MANILA (Reuters) - Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday ordered mining companies to conduct tree planting projects and threatened to ban all open pit mining next year.

The Southeast Asian nation’s mining sector has been under fire by Duterte’s government for environmental damage and alleged violations that include building mines in prohibited areas like watersheds. The fiery leader said miners should make an extra effort to plant trees in areas denuded by mining.

“I want trees as tall as me in six months. If there is none, consider your permit revoked. Do not wait for the day of your sorrow,” Duterte told reporters prior to departing for China.

The Philippines is the world’s biggest supplier of nickel ore and also among the top producers of copper and gold. But the sector makes up less than 1 percent of the country’s economy, based on data from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau.

“The industry, together with the Environment department, is working out how to reduce the disturbed areas,” Ronald Recidoro, executive director of the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, told Reuters.

President Duterte also warned mining companies that he might declare a total ban on open pit mining next year.

A ban on new open pit mines has been in place since April last year, covering projects including the $5.9 billion copper-gold Tampakan project in southern Mindanao island.

Open pit mining is allowed under Philippine law, but Duterte has rejected a recommendation by the Mining Industry Coordinating Council to lift the ban, citing the destruction to the soil and environment.

“We hope the president will reconsider his position because open pit mining is an established mining method worldwide,” said Chamber of Mines’ Recidoro, adding that the ban will also disrupt the extraction of cement and coal.

Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Tom Hogue