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Philippines' Duterte says will review minister's decision to close mines

By Manolo Serapio Jr

MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he will review his minister's order to close more than half the country's mines for environmental violations, following an outcry from affected producers.

"I will review. There's such a thing as exhaustion of administrative remedies," Duterte said in a speech late on Friday.

It was the first time Duterte said he would review the decisions of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Regina Lopez to shut mines and cancel mining contracts.

The firebrand leader, angered by the environmental harm mining has caused, had initially thrown his support behind Lopez's actions,

"I will not judge her now. I will see if there's something wrong," Duterte said on the decision to shutter mines.

Lopez on Feb. 2 ordered the closure of 23 of the country's 41 operating mines. Another five mines were suspended.

The Philippines is the world's top supplier of nickel ore and the affected mines account for about half of its annual output.

A committed environmentalist who describes herself as an eco-warrior, Lopez said the mines were located in watershed zones and have caused siltation of coastal waters and farmlands.

This week, she ordered the cancellation of 75 contracts for undeveloped mines she said were located in watershed areas.

Duterte, however, said "We get something like 70 billion pesos a year out of the mining operations in the entire Philippines. We have to also take (that) into consideration."

Miners whose operations were suspended or ordered to close have said they will take legal action to overturn Lopez's ruling.

A mining industry group has said the move to shut and suspend operating mines would affect 1.2 million people.

The first option for affected companies is to appeal to Duterte, and failing that, they could seek relief with the appellate court and later the Supreme Court.

Australian miner OceanaGold Corp, which runs the Philippines' biggest gold mine and was ordered to suspend operations, said earlier this week it had filed an appeal with Duterte's office, putting a stay on the execution of the suspension order.

Marcventures Mining and Development Corp, whose nickel mine was ordered to close, said on Friday it will take legal action to prevent implementation of the order and that it plans to ship out ore next month.

(Reportig by Enrico Dela Cruz; Editing by Eric Meijer)

 

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