A plan to lift a ban on open-pit mining in the Philippines has drawn strong opposition from environmental activists, including the social action arm of the country's Catholic bishops. Father Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of Caritas Philippines
, said lifting the ban is a "backward step in government policy" to protect the environment. The government's Mining Industry Coordinating Council announced it will lift the ban but warned mining laws should be strictly enforced. Philippine Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu said he supports the plan, even expressing hope that the ban will be lifted before the end of the year. The lifting of the ban will allow the development of some large-scale mining projects including the US$5.9 billion Tampakan copper and gold mine in the southern Philippines. Open-pit mining was allowed under Philippine mining laws until former environment chief Regina Lopez banned it last year because the practice supposedly degrades the environment. Father Gariguez said Cimatu should make a similar stand for the environment and implement President Rodrigo Duterte's promise not to allow "destructive mining." "Mr. Cimatu has a mandate to protect the environment, not the interests of the mining corporations," said the priest. He said Duterte must prove his commitment to protecting the environment by overriding the recommendation of the government panel. Clemente Bautista of the environmental group Kalikasan said the lifting of the ban would allow mining on agricultural land. "It will adversely affect the balance of nature, displace farmers and indigenous peoples, and will threaten the nation’s food security," he said. Non-government groups like the Philippine-Misereor Partnership Inc.
and the Alliance to Stop Mining also voiced their concern over the government plan. Mining advocates, however, described it as a "positive step for the industry."