Nickel ore: this is what it looks like. Photo: Reuters
Nickel ore: this is what it looks like. Photo: Reuters

A suspended Philippine nickel miner has asked President Rodrigo Duterte to allow it to ship ore stockpiles after some cargoes were seized as tensions escalated over a required fee it claimed was illegal.

BenguetCorp Nickel Mines has filed an urgent motion with Duterte’s office to issue a cease and desist order against the environment ministry after its officers, along with agents of the National Bureau of Investigation, raided its operations on Thursday, halting the loading of nickel ore into two Chinese vessels, a company official told Reuters on Sunday.

Reuters reported last month that eight nickel miners, including BenguetCorp Nickel, were suspended for environmental breaches in a mining crackdown.

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However, miners in the world’s top producer of the raw metal were allowed to remove previously mined ore that could pose environmental hazards.

But Environment Secretary Regina Lopez required the miners to put 2 million pesos (US$40,175) per hectare of disturbed land into a trust fund “to further mitigate the adverse impacts of the mining operations to the environment and to the affected communities.”

The environmentalist-turned-regulator has ordered the closure of more than half the Philippines’ 41 mines to protect water resources, a move largely supported by Duterte.

BenguetCorp Nickel, a unit of Benguet Corp, the Philippines’ oldest miner, said it secured permits in February to lift and ship stocked ore — about 1 million tonnes — from its mine in Zambales province, north of the capital Manila.

The company was loading 110,000 tonnes of ore into barges en route to the Chinese vessels when it was raided, executive director Isidro Alcantara said.

The miner sought Duterte’s intervention to stop the environment ministry “from harassing, stopping and committing criminal acts against our operation,” Alcantara said.

Duterte has yet to issue a decision on the motion filed on Friday.

Lopez said miners cannot haul ore unless they pay the required fund.

“It’s a policy directive. It cannot be stopped by simply questioning it in the Office of the President,” Lopez said in a text message. “We have to receive a stoppage order from the Office of the President or the court, else, we continue.”

Affected miners believe the additional money isn’t necessary since they have already set aside funds for rehabilitation.

BenguetCorp Nickel said the required trust fund, which it has appealed with Duterte, is “patently illegal” as there is no law that authorizes the environment ministry to impose it.