A suspended Philippine nickel miner has asked President Rodrigo Duterte to allow it to ship ore stockpiles after some cargoes were seized as tensions escalated over a required fee it claimed was illegal. (Reuters Photo/Erik De Castro)

After Raid, Philippine Nickel Miner Asks Duterte to Allow Shipment

APRIL 09, 2017

Manila. A suspended Philippine nickel miner has asked President Rodrigo Duterte to allow it to ship ore stockpiles after some cargoes were seized as tensions escalated over a required fee it claimed was illegal.

Benguet Nickel Mines Inc has filed an urgent motion with Duterte's office to issue a cease and desist order against the environment ministry after its officers, along with agents of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), raided its operations on Thursday (06/04), halting the loading of nickel ore into two Chinese vessels, a company official told Reuters on Sunday.

Reuters reported last month that eight nickel miners, including Benguet Nickel, were suspended for environmental breaches in a mining crackdown. However, miners in the world's top producer of the raw metal were allowed to remove previously mined ore that could pose environmental hazards.

But Environment Secretary Regina Lopez required the miners to put 2 million pesos ($40,175) per hectare of disturbed land into a trust fund "to further mitigate the adverse impacts of the mining operations to the environment and to the affected communities."

The environmentalist-turned-regulator has ordered the closure of more than half the Philippines' 41 mines to protect water resources, a move largely supported by Duterte.

Benguet Nickel, a unit of Benguet, the Philippines' oldest miner, said it secured permits in February to lift and ship stocked ore – about 1 million tons – from its mine in Zambales province, north of the capital Manila.

The company was loading 110,000 tons of ore into barges en route to the Chinese vessels when it was raided, executive director Isidro Alcantara said.

The miner sought Duterte's intervention to stop the environment ministry "from harassing, stopping and committing criminal acts against our operation," Alcantara said.

Duterte has yet to issue a decision on the motion filed on Friday.

Lopez said miners cannot haul ore unless they pay the required fund, adding she sought the help of NBI agents in confiscating the cargoes and in the subsequent inquest of the crew before the prosecutor's office.

"It's a policy directive. It cannot be stopped by simply questioning it in the Office of the President," Lopez said in a text message.

"We have to receive a stoppage order from the Office of the President or the court, else, we continue."

Affected miners believe the additional money isn't necessary since they have already set aside funds for rehabilitation.

Benguet Nickel said the required trust fund, which it has appealed with Duterte, is "patently illegal" as there is no law that authorizes the environment ministry to impose it.

Another suspended miner, Citinickel Mines and Development, also filed an appeal with Duterte, saying the fee was not a valid requirement to secure an export permit until Lopez ordered the miners to comply with it this year.

Citinickel's "filing of the notice of appeal stays the execution of the assailed order," Duterte's Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said in a letter on the matter issued on March 3.

Citinickel President Caroline Tanchay confirmed that the company is able to ship out its ore stockpiles.

Reuters

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