The country's metal production dropped 12 percent to P22 billion in the first quarter of 2016 due to persistent soft metal prices in the world market, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) reported.

The amount is lower by almost P3 billion compared to the P24.98 billion in total metal production value recorded from January to March of 2015, said the bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

The MGB report came after the DENR started issuing suspension orders against several mining firms as part of an ongoing audit of all mining operations in the country.

DENR Secretary Gina Lopez even vowed to block the US$5.9-billion Tampakan mine project, the largest copper-gold project in Southeast Asia, if it will operate as an open-pit mine which is highly destructive of the environment.

"I don't really like Tampakan at all. I have to live by my set of principles. And there is no way I would ever, ever, ever allow a 700 football field open pit mine on top of agricultural land," Lopez said.

She added: "It's immoral. For me it's socially unjust to allow business companies to make money and put the lives of all the farmers and indigenous people there at risk."

The Tampakan project, which straddles the provinces of South Cotabato, Saranggani, Sultan and Davao del Sur, has an estimated reserve of 18 million tons of gold and 15 million tons of copper.

According to the MGB, gold had the highest production value of 10.68 billion or 48.34 percent of the country's overall metal output during the first three months of 2016.

The bureau said this was due to the increased gold production of Masbate Gold Project of Filminera Mining Corporation and Philippine Gold Processing and Refining Corporation in Masbate at 1,640 kilograms (kg), and Didipio Gold Project of Oceana Gold Philippines Inc. in Nueva Vizcaya at 1,456 kg.

Direct shipping nickel ore and mixed sulfide, which were consistently on the top of the production list since 2012, slipped to second spot at 31.12 percent or a total production value of P6.88 billion.

The MGB attributed the slow start of nickel ore production to the unfavorable weather condition in Dinagat and Surigao provinces, which are among the top producers of the precious metal.

It noted that 17 of the 12 mining firms operating in those provinces reported zero production during the three-month period. ###