Aquino set to sign new mining policy

DAVAO CITY, Philippines: A new mining policy expected to be issued Friday by President Benigno Aquino hopes to generate more revenues for the government in the face of a high demand for metallic resources while excluding about 78 more areas from mining activities.

Aquino said here on Wednesday that he hoped to come out soon with the much-awaited executive order (EO) spelling out the government's revised mining policy in the midst of intense debate between industry leaders and environmentalists through the years.

Without going into details, the President said small-scale mining would be further regulated throughout the country under the new EO, which, he added, was undergoing "fine-tuning" in certain provisions for being "superfluous."

Mining and oil shares rose 1.64 per cent in the Philippine stock market on Wednesday following Mr. Aquino's statements.

The managing director of First Grade Holdings, Astro del Castillo, said the issuance of the new rules would trigger a significant spike in investments from new and old mining companies. "If you look at the industry, they have really stepped on the brakes over the past year," he said in an interview.

The new policy would expand the functions of the Mineral Development Council, said a source privy to the matter.

Under the plan, a new council composed of the Cabinet clusters on environment, climate change and economic issues would assess mining projects and rules related to the industry. It would also propose legislation for the mining industry.

78 tourism areas

Asked how the new EO will be able to balance out concerns on environment protection and economic gains, Mr. Aquino said that one of its provisions would designate "roughly" 78 areas to be reserved for tourism "and mining cannot happen there."

Extractive activities would be disallowed in agricultural and ecotourism areas, according to the source. At present, mining is barred only in areas under protected status.

The President noted that the provision in the draft EO that "mining cannot happen in prime agricultural lands" had also been stated in the law extending the implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program which, in turn, prohibited the conversion of irrigated lands.

"So I asked our lawyers: 'Do we need to put this down there when it's very clear that there is such a law? Do we have to reiterate?" he said, adding that the government might end up being a laughingstock for this.

He said small-scale mining sites would be declared "Minahan ng Bayan."

The President, who was interviewed by reporters after attending a convention of leaders of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao at Waterfront Hotel here, said he had asked his executive secretary, Paquito Ochoa, to look into the government's share of mining revenues and to flesh out the basis for imposing either higher taxes or royalties on mining projects.

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