* Nickel mine near heritage site and marine protected area
* Manila has already suspended a quarter of its 41 mines
* Philippines is world’s top nickel ore supplier
By Manolo Serapio Jr
MANILA, Oct 10 (Reuters) - The Philippines will cancel the environmental permit of a nickel miner that began operations this year, a minister said, as the government intensifies a campaign to punish mineral producers harming natural resources.
The Southeast Asian country is the world’s top nickel ore supplier and an environmental crackdown that has halted a quarter of its 41 mines, and the risk that 20 more maybe shuttered has spurred a rally in global nickel prices.
But the nickel mine now threatened with a shutdown, in southern Davao Oriental province and run by private-owned Austral-Asia Link Mining Corp, was not among those suspended or recommended for suspension.
The issue with the mine is it sits between Mount Hamiguitan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Pujada Bay, a marine protected area, said Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Regina Lopez who calls its approval “madness”.
“The ECC (environmental compliance certificate) was reviewed and as far as I know it will be cancelled,” Lopez told Reuters. The ECC “should have never been given,” she said.
Cancelling the ECC would halt the operations of Austral-Asia’s nickel mine, which started up in January, said an official at the Mines and Geosciences Bureau who declined to be named because he was not auhorised to speak with media.
The miner was also issued a permit to export 50,000 tonnes of nickel ore with iron content to China in June, the official said.
An official at Asiaticus Management Corp, which runs Austral-Asia, did not return a call from Reuters seeking comment.
Manila has already halted 10 mines, eight of them nickel, for environmental infractions in a two-month audit that began in July.
Twenty more have been recommended for suspension, although Lopez said on Sept. 30 that not all 20 may be frozen.
In all, the nickel producers, including those suspended and those at risk, account for more than half of the Philippines’ 2015 nickel ore output.
The environment agency also reviewed the ECCs of other projects, including the undeveloped $5.9 billion Tampakan gold-copper mine and an expansion venture of Semirara Mining and Power Corp, the Philippines’ top coal producer.
Lopez declined to say whether the ECCs for Tampakan and Semirara will be cancelled, adding that it will be discussed at an upcoming media briefing.
She said in August that Tampakan should not have been given an ECC since the planned mine would cover an area the size of 700 football fields in what otherwise would be agricultural land.
Semirara said earlier that a government audit found its expansion project to be “technically sound”.
Reporting by Manolo Serapio Jr.; Editing by Tom Hogue