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Philippines' minister stands by call to shut mines ahead of review
[MANILA] The Philippines' environment minister said on Monday she stands by her decision to shut more than half the country's operating mines and bar mining in watershed zones ahead of an inter-agency meeting later in the day to review the move.
The government's Mining Industry Coordinating Council will review her shutdown orders to ensure due process was followed and consider the impact on jobs and taxes after an outcry by the mining industry.
The council cannot overturn her orders, but its findings could feed into a decision by President Rodrigo Duterte, who has said he will review the planned closures after initially throwing his support behind his environment minister.
"My stand on no mining in watersheds is staunch," Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Regina Lopez told Reuters by phone.
"It's madness to do any kind of extractive industry in areas which are the source of the water supply of the island."
Ms Lopez on Feb 2 ordered the closure of 23 of the South-east Asian nation's 41 mines and suspended five others for environmental violations including harming watershed areas and causing siltation in coastal waters.
The decision angered domestic miners who vowed to contest the move. A mining industry group has said the closure or suspension of 28 mines would affect 1.2 million people who depend on the sector for their livelihood.
She also ordered the cancellation of 75 mining contracts, or nearly a third of mineral production sharing agreements for mines that have yet to go into production, for being located in watershed zones.
Ms Lopez, a committed environmentalist, co-chairs the Mining Industry Coordinating Council with Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez.
The meeting later on Monday is expected to officially kick off a review of operations affected by her orders. The government has given no specific timeline for the inter-agency council to complete its review.
"Even if a contract has been made, the (Environment and Natural Resources) secretary is in full authority to review contracts and make decisions based on the common good," Ms Lopez said on Monday.
"The priorities I am legally mandated to comply with are in many laws."
Mr Duterte has previously criticised the environmental damage caused by mining and said last August that the Philippines can survive without a mining industry.