MANILA, Philippines, July 10 (UPI) -- Philippines President Benigno Aquino has signed an executive order that bans mining in prime agricultural and fishing areas as well as in 78 designated eco-tourism sites.
The order also states no new mining permits would be approved until Congress passes a bill backing a mining tax increase. It calls for a 5 percent royalty on mining companies' gross earnings, compared with the current tax of 2 percent.
If such a law was passed by 2016, the government says, the Philippines could earn an additional $381 million from the higher royalties. Existing mining contracts would be included.
Leo Jasareno, director of the government's mines and geo-sciences bureau, said the government is targeting $2 billion worth of mining investments this year and $16 billion by 2016.
From 2004 to 2011, investments in mining projects in the country totaled about $4.4 billion.
Last year, mining accounted for 1 percent of the Philippines' gross domestic product.
Government estimates indicate the country has at least $840 billion in gold, copper, nickel, chromite, manganese, silver and iron ore deposits.
But large-scale mining in the Philippines has faced fierce opposition from community groups and local governments as well as the country's influential Catholic bishops.
Mining giant Xstrata's $5.9 billion Tampakan copper-gold project in the southern Philippines, for example, has been held up by a ban on open-pit mining imposed by the provincial government.
"The executive order is a product of input from stakeholders at all levels to address their concerns," Philippine Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa Jr. said in a statement. "We are confident that with the EO in place, we will be able to put order in processing mining applications and at the same time reinforce protection of the environment, spur economic growth, and create employment opportunities."
The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, an industry group, said it welcomed the new mining policy, saying it offers solutions that will encourage the development of the country's mineral resources.
Noting the EO was "crafted within a consultative framework involving mining's various stakeholders," the chamber in a statement called the policy "a signal to all investors of government's desire to establish a consistent and stable business environment founded on a level playing field."
"We are hopeful that the policy will harmonize conflicting interests, encourage investments, and foster sustainable development especially in the countryside where it is greatly needed," the chamber said.
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