* Mines open pending appeals "stuck" in cabinet office-Lopez
* Says fellow minister also stymied ban on ore stock removal
* Final decision on closures rests with President Duterte
* Philippines is world's top nickel ore supplier
By Enrico Dela Cruz
MANILA, April 19 Philippine Environment
Secretary Regina Lopez vented frustration on Wednesday that
mines she ordered closed months ago remain open, aiming a
broadside at a fellow minister whose office she blamed for
slowing appeals that can only be resolved by President Rodrigo
The blast underlined tensions within Duterte's cabinet since
Lopez ordered the permanent closure of 22 of the country's 41
mines early in February as part of a crackdown in the world's
top nickel ore exporter designed to protect water resources.
Global nickel prices jumped on supply risks after the move,
broadly supported by Duterte.
Lopez told reporters on the sidelines of a mining forum on
Wednesday that appeals by mine operators directly to Duterte
have become "stuck" in the office of the president's Executive
Secretary Salvador Medialdea.
"It's only the president that can make a decision, but right
now he can't even decide because the papers don't go to his
office," Lopez said.
The combative environment minister - whose appointment has
still to be ratified by Congress nearly 10 months after Duterte
named her to the post - also rounded on Medialdea for suspending
her order last month that mines where operations were suspended
last year can only ship out nickel ore stockpiles if they pay a
fee of 2 million pesos ($40,248) per hectare of disturbed land.
"He (Medialdea) stopped me. So now they're (miners) removing
the stockpiles and I cannot stop them," she said. Lopez she
wanted to meet with Medialdea but that he hasn't agreed to meet.
"It's my prerogative as (environment) secretary to issue
that directive," Lopez said. "I'm totally within my rights."
Medialdea did not immediately respond to a request for
Reuters reported last month that eight nickel miners
suspended last year for environmental infractions were allowed
to remove previously mined ore that could pose environmental
hazards. But Lopez required them to put 2 million pesos 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".
Miners have questioned the hefty fee and secured permits
from Medialdea to stay the implementation of Lopez's order.
Duterte reappointed Lopez this week after lawmakers deferred
a decision to confirm or reject her appointment before Congress
went into recess from March 18. They will resume hearings in
($1 = 49.6920 Philippine pesos)
(Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz; Writing and additional
reporting by Manolo Serapio Jr.; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)