MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine lawmakers on Wednesday said they would hold more hearings before deciding whether to confirm the appointment of the country's environment minister, although some said they were likely to approve the step.
The confirmation of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Roy Cimatu is being closely watched given the policy implications for the mining sector in the world's top nickel ore supplier.
Cimatu, a former soldier, replaced staunch environmentalist Regina Lopez who was rejected by the same legislative panel in May after less than a year in office. All ministerial appointments in the country go through a similar process.
During her term, Lopez ordered the closure or suspension of 26 of the nation's 41 mines and banned open-pit mining, measures that Cimatu has not reversed. He has said his team was still reviewing the closure and suspension orders.
"I am not pessimistic about his confirmation, but we need additional hearings," Senator Tito Sotto, part of the 25-member Commission on Appointments, told reporters.
Apart from Sotto, two other senators, Juan Miguel Zubiri and Gregorio Honasan, also expressed support for Cimatu.
"This is a proud moment for me," Honasan, also a former soldier, said at the hearing. "I can vouch for his competence and integrity."
The next hearing is set for Sept. 27.
Mining is a contentious issue in largely underexplored Philippines following past examples of environmental mismanagement. In 1996, a tailings leak at Canadian-owned Marcopper Mining Corp's copper mine in Marinduque contaminated rivers.
The sector contributes less than 1 percent to the economy, with only 3 percent of the 9 million hectares identified by the state as having high mineral reserves being mined, according to government data.
(Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz; Writing by Manolo Serapio Jr.; Editing by Joseph Radford)