* Duterte spokesman says due process must be observed
* Environment minister set to release closure orders
* Miners accuse minister of short-cutting process (Recasts with Duterte spokesman’s statement)
By Enrico Dela Cruz
MANILA, Feb 8 (Reuters) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and his cabinet will give mines facing closure by the environment ministry a chance to appeal the decision or rectify any violations, his spokesman said on Wednesday.
Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Regina Lopez has ordered the closure of 23 of the country’s 41 mines, most of which produce nickel ore, and the suspension of five more due to violations uncovered during a lengthy environmental audit.
The decision rocked the nickel market as the Philippines is the world’s biggest exporter of nickel ore and angered mining firms in the country who said the process followed by the environment minister was neither legal nor fair.
“The president and his cabinet collectively decided to observe due process with regard to the mining issue,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a statement on Wednesday.
“Companies affected by mining closures for violations of environmental laws and regulations will be given the opportunity to respond or dispute the audit, or make the necessary remedies to ensure compliance with government standards,” he said.
The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines industry group welcomed the decision, saying it “gives hope to our mining communities comprised of the many women and men who rely on the industry for their living”.
The group said it would work closely with the government to address issues raised “to ensure that a fair and just conclusion to the mines audit is reached”.
Lopez launched an audit of the country’s mines in July and appointed a panel to review its findings. It recommended only fines and suspensions, sources told Reuters, but the minister instead ordered 23 mines to shut on Feb. 2.
Earlier on Wednesday, the industry group accused Lopez of “short-cutting” the audit and decision-making process and said its members facing penalties had yet to receive any formal notice from the minister.
“The process ... was not fair, it’s not legal. She’s short-cutting the entire thing,” Ronald Recidoro, the industry group’s spokesman, said in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel.
Lopez, who presented her decision to cabinet on Tuesday, was due to release mine closure orders on Wednesday and she also agreed to publish the panel’s recommendations.
Lopez earlier disputed the complaints by the mining industry group saying she had issued an “omnibus directive” before her Feb. 2 announcement and her decision was fair and legal.
“Our lawyers have decided (the closure and suspension orders) should be issued to individual mining companies,” Lopez said in a statement on Wednesday. (Editing by David Clarke)