LISTED Philex Mining Corp. may have to defer its Silangan gold-copper project in Surigao del Norte, after Environment Secretary Regina Paz L. Lopez signed an order banning open-pit mining in the country.

Philex Mining Chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan — BW FILE PHOTO

“[Ms. Lopez] issued an order banning all open-pit (mining) so in the meantime, we [put on] hold the project. We have to follow the government,” Philex Mining Chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan told reporters on the sidelines of the ASEAN Prosperity for All Summit held in Pasay City on Friday.

Mr. Pangilinan was referring to subsidiary Silangan Mindanao Mining Co., Inc.’s open-pit mine in Surigao del Norte.

Philex Mining had so far invested P17 billion for the Silangan mine, which is still in exploration phase but expects to complete the feasibility study within the year.

“There have been some initial development work for the project. It was initially underground mining so there was work there and there was also some work in respect of open-pit. And then we are at the stage of finalizing the definitive studies which, on completion, we will submit to the government for approval. And confirmation of the ECC (environment compliance certificate). If we are given all the relevant approvals, then we can proceed. But for now, that’s put on hold,” Mr. Pangilinan said.

When asked if the company will challenge the Environment Department’s ban on open-pit mining in court, Mr. Pangilinan said: “We don’t know yet. We are reluctant to.”

On Thursday, Ms. Lopez signed the order that will ban mines preparing to operate from using the open-pit method to extract metal ore.

The administrative order, titled: “Banning the Open Pit Method of Mining Companies for Copper, Gold, Silver and Complex Ores in the Country,” claimed most open pits in the past “ended up as perpetual liabilities, causing adverse impacts to the environment.”

To recall, the Silangan mine was one of the 75 mines, all still in exploration phase, whose mineral production sharing agreement was canceled by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources due to its proximity to a watershed.

The Silangan project passed its first ISO 14001 annual audit conducted in April this year by Certification International Philippines, Inc.

“The accomplishment means that Silangan maintains its ISO 14001 Certification, received on June 1, 2016. This also highlights the Project’s compliance with strict environmental management standards, during the provision of pre-mining development activities, and bodes well for its bid to commence mine development and commercial operations in the future,” Silangan Mindanao Mining President and COO Yulo E. Perez earlier said.

Philex Mining is one of the three Philippine units of Hong Kong-based First Pacific Co. Ltd., the others being PLDT, Inc. and Metro Pacific Investments Corp. Hastings Holdings, Inc. — a unit of PLDT Beneficial Trust Funds subsidiary MediaQuest Holdings, Inc. — maintains interest in BusinessWorld through the Philippine Star Group, which it controls.