Gov’t won’t back down on lifting mining ban

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THE GOVERNMENT said it will not give in to pressure to reconsider Executive Order (EO) No. 130, which lifted the moratorium on new mining agreements, citing the need to generate new revenue due to the pandemic.

Hindi natin pinagtutuunan ng pansin ang ganyan dahil marami tayong problema ngayon sa ating bansa. Kailangan natin ng pagkukuhanan ng pondo at ito ang isa sa mga paraan para tayo makaahon. (We are not paying attention to those calling for the EO to be withdrawn because the country is facing many problems. We need to find a source of funds and this is one path to recovery),” Environment Undersecretary Jonas R. Leones said in a Laging Handa briefing Monday.

According to Mr. Leones, funds generated by new mining agreements can be used for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) containment efforts and to provide financial assistance to the poor.

He added that EO 130 is one of the initiatives taken by the government to address its financial challenges during the public health emergency.

On April 14, President Rodrigo R. Duterte signed EO 130, which also authorizes the government to review active mining deals for possible renegotiation. The EO amends an order issued by former President Benigno S. C. Aquino III in 2012, which froze the grant of new mining agreements.

Opposition to the EO has centered on claims that it will negatively affect the environment and indigenous communities.

Mr. Leones said there are 100 mining projects in the pipeline with the potential to generate P21 billion in revenue for the Treasury.

“We can use the country’s resources to generate the necessary income for our economy,” Mr. Leones said.

Mr. Leones added that the upcoming mining agreements consist of Phase 1 which includes 35 mining projects ready to be implemented soon, with 65 projects in Phase 2.

In a mobile phone message, Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) Director Wilfredo G. Moncano said Phase 1 projects can be expected to start within months and are at a stage of obtaining the requirements set out before proceeding with extraction.

Mr. Moncano said Phase 2 projects are those that can mobilize by next year, with proponents having passed milestones like the Declaration of Mining Project Feasibility.

Ronald S. Recidoro, Chamber of Mines of the Philippines executive director, said in a mobile phone message that large investments have been made in three projects that are in the pipeline — the Tampakan Copper Project of Sagittarius Mines, Inc.; the King-King Copper-Gold Project of the Nationwide Development Corp. and St. Augustine Gold & Copper Ltd.; and the Silangan Copper and Gold Project of Philex Mining Corp.

“We are already looking at over $4 billion in capital expenditure, with over P40 billion in local government unit (LGU) taxes, P20 billion in social development projects, and P15 billion paid to indigenous peoples as royalties,” Mr. Recidoro said.

“Of course, this will not come immediately, or in one go, but it will be spread over the life of the mining project. But to get this significant amount of revenue spread over years, and spent in the remote areas that need it most, is definitely a plus,” he added.

Philex Mining Public and Regulatory Affairs Head Francis Joseph G. Ballesteros, Jr. said in a mobile phone message that the company is still looking for a business partner for its Silangan project in Surigao del Norte.

“We are still aggressively on the lookout for a business partner for Silangan. Perhaps, with this new EO 130, investor interest will be encouraged. We hope that we can accomplish this within the year,” Mr. Ballesteros said.

In 2020, the MGB estimated that the value of the metallic mining industry’s output rose 1.13% to P132.21 billion, of which nickel ore and its by-products accounted for 51.8% or P68.48 billion; gold 36% or P47.60 billion; copper 11.25% or P14.88 billion; and the combination of silver, chromite, and iron P1.26 billion.

Philex Mining is one of the three Philippine units of Hong Kong’s First Pacific Co. Ltd., the two others being PLDT, Inc. and Metro Pacific Investments Corp. Hastings Holdings, Inc. — a unit of PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund subsidiary MediaQuest Holdings, Inc. — maintains an interest in BusinessWorld through the Philippine Star Group, which it controls. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave

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