Philippines Moves to Shut Mines Accused of Polluting

On Feb. 14, she followed up by canceling 75 contracts to develop new mines, in what she called a “gift of love” for the Filipino people.


Workers removing toxic red nickel laterite covering a road in Surigao del Norte. Similar runoff has contaminated rivers and wells, residents and environmentalists say.

Jes Aznar for The New York Times

And on Thursday, she said she would soon issue an order banning open-pit mines, calling the pollution of rivers with heavy metals “a perpetual liability.”

“It is time for social justice,” she said in announcing the initial ban in February. “You cannot run your business and affect our farmers and fishermen.”

The crackdown has unnerved the mining industry; the people who depend on it have denounced the move as disastrous for the economy. They are joined in their opposition by indigenous tribes that stand to lose royalties paid by mining companies for use of their ancestral lands.

Environmentalists, religious groups and others have cheered the mine closings, saying that corruption has long given the mining industry free rein to pollute. Among the supporters is the country’s popular president, Rodrigo Duterte.

“Sons of whores, look at what you’re doing,” Mr. Duterte said last month, addressing the mining companies. He has dismissed concerns about the potential loss of tax revenue from closed mines, saying, “We can live without it.”


“It is time for social justice,” said Gina Lopez, the acting secretary of the environment. “You cannot run your business and affect our farmers and fishermen.”

Romeo Ranoco/Reuters

The costs are substantial. The government has estimated that 234,000 jobs could be lost. The mining industry says the closings would affect as many as 1.2 million people, including employees of companies that depend on the industry, like equipment suppliers.

The country’s annual nickel ore production would fall as much as 50 percent, Ms. Lopez has said. Such a drop, analysts said, would dent global supply by 8 percent to 10 percent. A temporary increase in world nickel prices followed Ms. Lopez’s announcement in February.

Many mines continue to operate while companies fight Ms. Lopez’s orders in court. They are also opposing her permanent appointment as environment secretary, which Congress is expected to vote on next week. (In the Philippines, presidential appointees can run departments before they are confirmed, but they must step down if Congress votes against them.)

Ms. Lopez, a former environmental activist, said that her office was…

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