PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has authorized the lifting of a nearly 9-year moratorium on new mineral agreements in a bid to generate job opportunities and spur countryside growth.

In Executive Order (EO) 130, Duterte amended EO 79 issued by former president Benigno Aquino 3rd in 2012 that suspended applications for mineral contracts in protected areas, prime agricultural lands, tourism development areas, and other critical places like island ecosystems, among others.

"The moratorium on mineral agreements under Section 4, EO No. 79 is hereby lifted," the new executive order read.

"In addition to ushering significant economic benefits to the country, the mining industry can support various government projects, such as the Build, Build, Build Program, by providing raw materials for the construction and development of other industries; and the Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa Program, by increasing employment opportunities in remote rural areas where there are mining activities thereby stimulating countryside development," it added.

The country has tapped "less than 5 percent of its mineral resources endowment to date," according to EO 130.

Under the new EO, the amended Section 4 now reads "The Government may enter into new mineral agreements, subject to compliance with the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 and other applicable laws, rules, and regulations."

"The DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) may continue to grant and issue Exploration Permits under existing laws, rules, and guidelines. The grantees of such Permits shall have the rights under the said laws, rules, and guidelines over the approved exploration area and shall be given the right to first option to develop and utilize the minerals in their respective exploration area upon the approval of the declaration of mining project feasibility," it added.

The same EO also directed DENR to formulate terms and conditions in the new mining agreements that will "maximize government revenues and share from production."

It would include the possible declaration of such areas as mineral reservations to get royalties in accordance with the country’s laws.

The President also tasked the DENR to review existing mining contracts and agreements "for possible renegotiation" of the terms and conditions, that must be mutually acceptable to the government and the mining contractor.

Both the DENR and the Department of Finance have also been ordered to take measures to rationalize the existing revenue-sharing scheme.

In the same EO, the President ordered DENR "to strictly implement mine safety and environmental policies."

"It shall ensure strict implementation of and compliance with the recommended measures of the Mining Industry Coordinating Council involving all mining operations, including other pertinent laws, rules, and regulations, and terms and conditions of the mineral agreements," the order read.

The latest presidential directive was reached after the DENR conducted a review of the regulatory framework of the mining industry.

The order noted that the department put in place policies to enhance environmental safeguards to ensure mining operations observe the protection of the environment.

The order on the grant of new mineral projects subject to compliance with the relevant laws was signed by the President on April 14 and released by the Palace Thursday, April 15. It will take effect upon publication in a newspaper.

In 2018, Duterte lifted a 2-year moratorium on approving mining exploration permits to help determine the potential of some prospects in the Philippines, the world’s No. 2 nickel ore exporter.

The President has repeatedly criticized miners for polluting rivers and destroying forests.

But a government panel in 2018 said 23 out of 27 mines have passed an initial review for compliance with state regulations.

Mining companies had called on the government to lift the suspension on new mining agreements and the use of open pits to help promote economic growth in the pandemic-hit country.

The Philippines is the second biggest supplier of nickel ore to top buyer China, after Indonesia, where it is used to produce stainless steel.