A ban on open-pit mining in the Philippines has 'no legal basis' and is under review, according to a senior government official. The statement is an indication that measures enforced by former environment minister Regina Lopez could be challenged.

According to Reuters, Mines and Geosciences Bureau's legal division head Larry Hernandez told reporters this week, “In the Philippines ... surface mining or open-pit is technically and financially feasible.”

This was the first time a government official has countered a policy previously issued by Regina Lopez, whose appointment was rejected in May.

This came after she had led a 10-month mining crackdown, ordering the closure or suspension of 26 mines, primarily nickel operations, and imposing a ban on open-pit mining, which she said, “kills the economic potential of the place”.

Larry Hernandez is part of a team that is reviewing Regina Lopez’s policy orders, including the cancellation of 75 contracts for undeveloped mines to protect watersheds.

Some of the 75 contracts may still be cancelled, he said, “not because the projects are within watersheds but because of possible violations like non-payment of taxes and non-implementation of work program”.

Once this team has completed its review of all previous policy orders and made recommendations, they will be submitted to new Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, who then “can revise or amend or supersede” them.

Roy Cimatu, who took over on May 8, has been taking a slow and steady approach towards mining. He said on Tuesday he might decide in July what to do about the mining operations and contracts that Lopez ordered closed, suspended or cancelled.

He told Reuters in May it was possible to strike a balance between mining and natural resources, signaling his intent to settle a dispute that has been one of the biggest economic conundrums of President Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency.