By Manolo Serapio Jr
MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines has ordered a review of more than 100 proposals for small-scale mining sites across the country following a landslide that killed 62 people including illegal gold miners, its environment minister said on Tuesday.
The Southeast Asian nation has designated about 18 mining areas for small-scale mining locally known as Minahang Bayan. The areas are subject to rules regulating small-scale mineral extraction to ensure taxes are paid and environmental breaches are prevented.
“We will be stricter in approving Minahang Bayan sites, and affirm whether they conform to standards that are safe especially for the miners,“ Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Roy Cimatu said in a statement.
There are more than 100 pending applications for Minahang Bayan, Wilfredo Moncano, the head of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, told reporters.
The order comes a day after Cimatu halted all small-scale mining in the Cordillera region in northern Philippines after heavy rains from super typhoon Mangkhut triggered landslides on Saturday which some government officials and large miners said were exacerbated by illegal small-scale mining.
In the village of Ucab in the town of Itogon in the Cordillera, the death toll has reached 62 with more than 40 people still missing, said Francis Tolentino, an advisor to President Rodrigo Duterte and head of the government’s disaster coordination.
Some of those who died were illegally extracting for gold around the areas where Benguet Corp operated a mine that suspended operations in the 1990s.
Benguet Corp said in a statement to the Philippine Stock Exchange on Tuesday that the illegal mining and gold processing activities there “are without the permission” of the company.
The Philippines is the world’s No. 2 nickel ore supplier after Indonesia. The government’s focus on small-scale mining follows an earlier crackdown on larger miners many of which were ordered closed or suspended for environmental infractions.
Last month, a government panel said 23 of 27 mines reviewed for compliance with state regulations will continue to operate, while the remaining four that failed the audit could face closure.
(Reporting by Manolo Serapio Jr.; Additional reporting by Enrico dela Cruz and Manuel Mogato; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)