MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte repeated his call on Monday to shut all mines in the country following deadly landslides, hours after his minister halted all small-scale mining in a mountainous gold-rich region.
“If I were to try to do my thing I will close all mining in the Philippines,” he said, presiding over a televised meeting of the government’s disaster response team two days after a powerful typhoon struck.
Duterte has often criticized the mining industry, saying the environmental damage far outweighs any benefit to the economy.
His latest comments followed an order earlier by Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Roy Cimatu to stop all small-scale mining in the Cordillera region, where landslides killed 24 people.
“We have a problem with our mining industry. It has not contributed anything substantial to the national economy,” Duterte said. Shortly after he assumed office in 2016, he warned all miners to follow tighter environmental rules or to shut down, saying the nation could survive without a mining industry.
Mining accounts for less than 1 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, although only 3 percent of the 9 million hectares identified by the state as having high mineral reserves is being mined.
Mining has been a contentious issue in the Philippines, the world’s No. 2 nickel ore supplier after Indonesia, due to cases of environmental mismanagement.
The government estimates that 60-70 percent of small-scale miners in the country operate illegally, many of them digging for gold, silver and chromite.
Cimatu said he was also revoking temporary mining permits given to 10 associations in the Cordillera region in the wake of the landslides.
Typhoon Mangkhut, which tore across the northern tip of the Philippines early on Saturday, killed at least 54 people, many of them due to landslides which some government officials and large miners said were exacerbated by illegal small-scale mining.
Some of those who died were illegally mining for gold near an abandoned bunkhouse owned by gold miner Benguet Corp, according to the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines.
The chamber, of which Benguet Corp is a member, said mining operators there had been repeatedly told to leave the area because of the threat of landslides.
-Reporting by Manolo Serapio Jr. Editing by Edmund Blair and Louise Heavens