Philippines names new environment minister

May 9, 2017

Global nickel markets will watch closely what happens in the Philippines under the watch of new environment minister Roy Cimatu who was named to the post by President Rodrigo Duterte following the ouster of Regina Lopez.

Lopez, a staunch environmentalist, waged a 10-month crackdown on mining in the country, ordering the permanent closure of more than half of the mines in the country. She was forced from the position in the beginning of May.

The Philippines is one of the world’s top nickel producers and was the home to 41 operating mines before the closure orders from Lopez.

In Cimatu, mining companies hope to have a more moderate minister to work with. Cimatu indicated in an interview that he will take a more level approach to mining and said he felt it is possible to strike a balance between mining and protecting natural resources, but added that he needed time to assess mine closures ordered by his dismissed predecessor.

“There are countries where mining contributes a lot to the economy and environmentalists are not screaming,” Cimatu told Reuters. “I think it can be done ... (balancing) environment (protection) and responsible mining.”

Cimatu’s next steps will be closely watched by nickel markets for clues on whether the government will boost or constrict supply of the metal, shipped to destinations such as China to churn out stainless steel.

Cimatu briefly headed the Philippine armed forces in 2002 and said he has yet to take a position on decisions made by Lopez including her orders to shut more than half the country’s mines and cancel contracts for undeveloped mines to protect water resources.

“I will not take any action on things that I haven’t seen or read or reviewed. I will look at them first,” he said.

Lopez was removed from the post by a panel of lawmakers that scrutinize Duterte's appointments, ending the 10-month mining crackdown she waged in a bid to better protect the environment.

In addition to her orders to close 22 of 41 operating mines, Lopez banned openpit mining in the nation, in April.

The 70-year-old Cimatu said he could allow mining in the country as long as it was done responsibly, taking a more moderate stance than Lopez.

He said his past experience with environmental protection was mainly during his days in the military when soldiers helped villagers in planting trees and keeping rivers clean.

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