MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Tuesday he hopes there will be a “happy compromise” between the mining industry and protecting the environment, throwing support once more to an embattled minister who shut half of the country’s mines.
Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Regina Lopez will appear before Congress for her confirmation hearing on Wednesday, and will likely have to defend her decisions on mine closures amid concerns over job and revenue losses.
Lopez is among just a few of Duterte’s appointees yet to be confirmed by lawmakers.
The Philippines is the top nickel ore exporter and Lopez’s approval would probably sustain worries over supply disruptions that could lift global prices of the stainless steel ingredient.
“I know that we need the dollars but somehow we have to look at the other way,” Duterte told an agricultural industry event.
“She has a good case. Hopefully we can strike a happy compromise there,” he said.
Lopez, a fiery environmental crusader, last month ordered the closure of 23 of the country’s 41 mines and suspended five others to protect watersheds after a months-long review by the environment agency.
Duterte, who last year said the country can survive without a mining sector, has largely backed Lopez’s mining crackdown, and did not appear to deviate from his stance on Tuesday.
“You just cannot ignore the cries of Gina Lopez,” he said, adding that she has clearly pointed out the environmental harm mining has caused in nickel-rich southern Mindanao island.
“We cannot be allowing digging forever in every nook and cranny of the mountain ranges. It will spell disaster,” said President Duterte, also the former mayor of Davao City, the biggest city in Mindanao.
Earlier on Tuesday, Lopez said she had asked Duterte to halt a second review of the 28 mines that she ordered closed or suspended, challenging its legality after first supporting it.
Reporting by Manolo Serapio Jr.; Additional reporting by Neil Jerome Morales and Enrico dela Cruz; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Tom Hogue