The Philippines' environment minister stepped up a crackdown on mining on Tuesday, cancelling almost a third of the country's contracts for undeveloped mines and rejecting any challenges to earlier orders to shut more than half of all operating pits.
The move turns up the heat in her battle with the mining sector after she ordered the closure of 23 of the country's 41 mines earlier this month on environmental grounds, causing an outcry from the industry and threats of legal action.
The latest 75 contracts, which cover projects in the exploration stage or otherwise not yet in production, are all in watershed zones and would threaten water supply if they went ahead, Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Regina Lopez said.
"You kill the watershed, you kill life," Lopez told a media briefing.
A long-time environmentalist, Lopez ordered the closure of the 23 mines on Feb. 2 for damaging watersheds and for siltation of coastal waters and farmlands. Five more mines were suspended. The industry says the orders will affect 1.2 million people.
The contracts canceled on Tuesday, known as mineral production sharing agreements (MPSAs), include the $1.2 billion copper-gold project of Philex Mining Corp, one of the country's biggest miners, in southern Philippines.
President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday said he would not stand in the way of Lopez's decision to shut several mines in southern Philippines, the second time he has thrown his support behind the minister he appointed last June.