The government also plans to conduct its own mineral explorations across different parts of the country following the implementation of Executive Order (EO) 130, which now allows the approval of new mining projects in the country.
Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) Director Wilfredo Moncano said such a plan will prevent the disposal of government-owned mining assets for the wrong value.
“We also intend to do our own mineral exploration in mining assets held by the government, [through] PMO [Privatization Management Office], to provide updated geological information and evaluation of these mining assets so they could be disposed at a better price,” Moncano told Business Bulletin.
PMO is the successor agency of the Asset Privatization Trust (APT) that oversees the privatization of government assets and corporations. It operates under the Department of Finance (DOF).
Moncano said the MGB will focus its exploration efforts on PMO assets that have no legal issues.
He noted that PMO-held mining assets –Bagacay Mines, Basay Copper Mines, Maricalum, Marcopper — have no scheduled public bidding yet, but there are still legal issues in some of these assets that need to be resolved.
MGB is the government agency tasked to regulate and develop the country’s mining industry.
In 2019, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) began pushing for various government-led mineral explorations in the Philippines, which has long been identified as one of the highly mineralized countries in the world.
“That’s the vision,” Environment Undersecretary Jonas Leones said in an earlier report.
The Philippines’ untapped mineral deposits — composed of nickel, gold, copper, iron, and chromite — have been estimated to be worth $1.4 trillion.
But MGB Assistant Director Danilo Uykieng suspects that the actual number is bigger than the rough estimate.
The Philippine government used to undertake mineral exploration. “We had various explorations in the 1960s to 1990s. That was in partnership with JICA [Japan International Cooperation Agency],” Uykieng earlier said.
JICA assisted the Philippines to conduct a survey on the potential mineral resources in the eastern Luzon, Visayas, and Palawan. In the end, deposits were found in Southern Sierra Madre in Leyte, Dinagat, Siargao, Cebu, Bohol, and Southwest Negros areas.
Uykieng said the Philippines has an insufficient annual budget for mining exploration. For this year, MGB has a slightly lower budget of P1.31 billion under the General Appropriations Act (ACT) compared with the P1.36 billion it had in 2020.
Under MGB’s 2021 GAA, MGB allotted a much bigger budget, exactly P118.18 million, to its mineral resources and geosciences development programs. This is higher compared to last year’s allocation of P59.38 million.
IRR of EO 130
Meanwhile, Moncano said the government hopes to be able to release this month the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) for E0 130, the presidential order allowing the approval of new mining projects in the country.
Moncano told Business Bulletin a draft IRR for EO 130 and that stakeholders’ consultation is scheduled to take place on the third week of this month.
He said the DENR officials already provided inputs to the draft and that these were already received by the Policy Technical Working Group of MGB.
“The third revision of the draft will be presented again to the DENR undersecretaries next week,” he further said.
Signed by President Rodrigo Duterte on April 14, 2021, EO 130 amended the nine-year-old EO 79 of the Aquino Administration, which imposed a moratorium on new mining projects until new legislation rationalizing revenue-sharing scheme between the government and mining companies is enacted.
Under the EO, the President directed authorities to rationalize the existing revenue-sharing scheme while they strictly implement mining safety and environmental policies.
EO 130 also orders the review of existing mineral deals for possible renegotiation.
In an earlier report, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu said the government is considering imposing more requirements on new mining applications and incorporate this in the draft IRR of EO 130.
Moncano refused to comment if the IRR of EO 130 will cover provisions about open-pit mining method, which is still banned in the country through a DENR administrative order issued by former and late Environment Secretary Regina Paz Lopez in 2017.
The MGB chief, however, told Business Bulletin that the government is also considering lifting the ban on the open-pit mining method.