* Two DMCI nickel mines suspended last year
* DMCI mining arm chief says to resume ops while appeals
* Philippines is world's top nickel ore supplier
By Neil Jerome Morales and Manolo Serapio Jr
MANILA, March 17 A Philippine nickel ore
producer plans to reopen two mines suspended for environmental
violations while it awaits the outcome of an appeal, in a test
of rules around the government's crackdown on the industry.
The two mines were among 10 suspended last year during a
months-long audit led by Environment Secretary Regina Lopez, who
later ordered the closure of more than half of operating mines
in the world's top nickel ore exporter.
The move angered the industry, which said the closure orders
were baseless and urged lawmakers this month to reject the
ministerial appointment of Lopez, a committed environmentalist,
in favour of a more moderate replacement.
The two mines are owned by construction-to-power firm DMCI
Holdings Inc which said it wanted to test rules and
assurances from government officials that its mines can operate
while appeals are pending.
"We will hold on to what they said and start operating. Let
them tell us to stop again. And we will tell them, look, you
said we are not suspended during the pendency of our case,"
Cesar Simbulan, president of DMCI's mining arm, told reporters
late on Thursday.
Simbulan said DMCI has filed appeals for the two projects,
Zambales Diversified Metal Corp (ZDMC) and Berong Nickel Corp,
with the environment agency and plans to restart both mines
later this month.
The two mines were initially suspended last year. ZDMC was
among 23 mines ordered shut by Lopez on Feb. 2 to protect
watersheds, while Berong was among five others ordered
Lopez has said affected companies can appeal their case with
the environment agency or with President Rodrigo Duterte and
operate while awaiting a decision. It's not clear if this
applies to mines halted last year.
Lopez and other environment officials did not immediately
respond to a request for comment.
Leo Jasareno, a consultant to Lopez, told lawmakers at a
hearing on Tuesday that miners who filed appeals with Duterte's
office or the environment agency can still operate, though he
referred to mines ordered shut last month.
Simbulan said the company plans to rehire workers and hoped
to secure government permits to ship out ore.
Operating "includes shipping out," he said. "If the
environment agency doesn't grant us a permit then we will file a
Philippine lawmakers on Tuesday deferred a decision to
confirm or reject Lopez's appointment, likely putting off any
decision until at least May when they return from a six-week
(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales and Manolo Serapio Jr.;
Additional reporting by Enrico dela Cruz; Editing by Richard