* Govt seeks to revitalise stagnant mining industry
* $5.9 bln Tampakan copper project stalled over ban
* Philippines is top nickel ore supplier to China (Adds more comments, background)
MANILA, May 20 (Reuters) - The head of the Philippines’ Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) on Thursday told Reuters he expected a ban on open-pit mining to be lifted soon, following a government decision to welcome new mining agreements after a long moratorium.
The government imposed the open-pit ban in 2017, when the environment and natural resources ministry, which oversees mining, was led by an anti-mining advocate who had blamed the sector for extensive environmental damage.
“I can’t speculate, but I hope soon,” said Wilfredo Moncano, whose bureau comes under the environment ministry.
“The constitution and the Mining Act do not prohibit open-pit mining. So, why not lift the ban?”
Moncano did not elaborate on why he believed the ministry would soon lift the ban. The ministry undersecretary in charge of mining did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Allowing new open-pit mining projects will be the second landmark measure this year by the government to revitalise an industry that has stagnated from years of restrictive policies.
In April, President Rodrigo Duterte lifted a moratorium on new mineral agreements imposed in 2012, reopening the door to investments but dismaying environmentalists, as the government seeks to boost state coffers.
Mining is a highly contentious issue in the Philippines, the biggest supplier of nickel ore to top metals consumer China, after past cases of environmental mismanagement fuelled a strong multi-sectoral lobby against the industry.
More than a third of the Philippines’ total land area of 30 million hectares (300,000 sq km) has been identified as having “high mineral potential”, according to the MGB, but only less than 5% of the country’s mineral reserves is estimated to have been extracted so far.
Open-pit mining is a globally accepted method and one of safest, Moncano said.
Lifting the ban will pave the way for several big-ticket projects to take off, such as the $5.9 billion Tampakan copper-gold mine development in southern Philippines, the country’s biggest stalled mining project.
Tampakan failed to start after the provincial government banned open-pit mining in 2010, an obstacle reinforced by the 2017 nationwide ban, prompting commodities giant Glencore to quit the project in 2015. (Reporting by Enrico Dela Cruz; Editing by Martin Petty)