By Karen Lema
DAVAO, Philippines (Reuters) – Incoming Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday warned he would cancel mining projects causing environmental harm as an anti-mining advocate accepted his offer to head the agency overseeing the country’s natural resources.
Environmentalist Gina Lopez said she had accepted Duterte’s offer to be the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, a day after the president-elect asked her to lead the agency, broadcaster ABS-CBN reported.
The Southeast Asian nation has among the largest untapped mineral resources in the region. However, years of opposition from the Catholic Church and a strong anti-mining lobby, as well as insurgency and widespread corruption, have stalled many projects including the $5.9 billion gold-copper Tampakan project in the southern Mindanao island discovered in 1991.
“There will be a comprehensive review of the mining claims of concessions given,” Duterte told business leaders in the southern Davao City where he served as mayor for over two decades.
“I will require you to go to Canada or Australia, learn how to mine the precious metals inside the bowels of the earth and do it. Because … (if) you are spoiling the land, I will cancel it without hesitation.”
The ministerial post at the mining agency was among the last that Duterte had filled, reflecting his concern over what he said were irresponsible mining operations that have led to environmental destruction.
The firebrand mayor assumes office on June 30 after winning the election last month on a campaign to crush crime, corruption and poverty.
News that Lopez, sister of media conglomerate ABS-CBN Corp Chairman Eugenio Lopez III, was being offered the environment post sent shares of Philippine mining firms sliding on Tuesday.
Duterte, in his victory speech on June 4, warned mining companies to “shape up”, signalling he would prefer ownership of local mining assets to be left to local investors.
Swiss commodities giant Glencore quit the Tampakan project in 2015, with the venture halted by a ban on open-pit mining in Mindanao’s South Cotabato province imposed from 2010. A local company has taken over the project.
(Reporting by Karen Lema, Writing by Manolo Serapio Jr.; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Keith Weir)