MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte has issued an ultimatum to the Philippine mining industry: Shape up or ship out.
“I can forego with the P40 billion I collect from you guys and the Filipinos will survive without you. Either you follow strictly government standards or you close up,”Duterte said at a news briefing in Malacañang on Monday, August 1.
Duterte zeroed in on mining companies that do not comply with the government’s environmental protection standards. He named Marcopper Mining Corporation, a Canadian company that ran copper mines in Marinduque Island.
In 1996, a leak in Marcopper’s tunnels caused toxic waste to spill into nearby river systems and farms, contaminating drinking water, poisoning farm animals, and rendering entire rivers unusable. The Marcopper Mining Disaster is known as one of the largest mining disasters in Philippine history.
“Kayong mga minahan diyan, pati ‘yang Marcopper, hanggang ngayon hindi pa ninyo nalinis ‘yung dumi ninyo (You mining companies, including Marcopper, until now you have not cleaned up the pollution). I will not allow it,” said Duterte.
The President said he would order the military and police to shut down mines that lack the proper permits and licenses that ensure compliance to environmental protection regulations.
He also seemed to be referring to actual “holes” in mining facilities that lead to toxic waste leaks.
“Lahat ng butas dito ng mga walang lisensiya, I will order the military and the police to close them. Kapag ayaw ninyong sumunod, ipapasok ko kayo doon sa butas, takpan ko kayo kasali,” he said.
(All those with holes [in mining operations] without licenses, I will order the military and the police to close them. If you refuse to follow, I will put you inside the hole and cover that hole with you inside it.)
Though he recognizes the contribution of mining to the economy, he said irresponsible mining does more harm than good.
“Sabihin ninyo (You say) mining is a critical component on the Philippine economy – of course it is, it’s income. But you are also making critical damage,” said Duterte.
Defends Gina Lopez
Duterte also came to the defense of Environment Secretary Gina Lopez who has closed down at least 6 mining sites in her month in office.
“She is not an incompetent; she is a bright lady. And she is simply a crusader,” said Duterte.
The President told mining companies and other critics of Lopez not to put her through trial by publicity. Duterte said she was only doing her job.
After all, his marching orders to her were to ensure mines in the Philippines uphold the strictest environmental protection standards.
“You try to castigate Gina Lopez for being strict and yet you destroy the land, destroy the soil. Tapos yayaman kayo diyan (Then you get rich from it)….Do not do it,” said Duterte.
Lopez is the second Cabinet secretary Duterte has defended publicly. On July 19, he went on national television just to dispel rumors that Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr was about to be sacked.