Gov’t to explore, protect lands with ‘critical metals’
BAGUIO CITY—The government will take the lead in exploring, identifying and safeguarding mineral deposits of “critical metals” like nickel and lithium which will be in great demand as the world shifts to green technologies, Environment Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo Loyzaga announced on Thursday.
Speaking at the mineral symposium of this year’s Mine Safety and Environment Conference here, Loyzaga said the state-sponsored exploration of what she described as “strategically important mineral resources” would start next year, part of President Marcos’ initiative to manage an estimated $1 trillion worth of gold, copper, zinc, chromite and other mineral reserves in the country.
The government, she said, is also developing a critical minerals road map to help guide policies and protect these resources.
“The environment underpins the economy and not the other way around,” Loyzaga stressed.
She said climate change had forced world industries to seek out clean renewable energy, promote electric vehicles and reduce carbon pollution, and develop batteries that not only operate electric cars, but also store energy produced by solar farms, wind farms, geothermal plants and hydroelectric power plants.
These developing technologies and commodities require copper, nickel and nickel byproducts like cobalt.
“The intensity of extreme weather events that now cut across regions and shifts in temperature and the amount of water from rainfall will impact [a mine’s] engineering and operations,” Loyzaga said.
Using a “climate lens,” the government has reviewed and evaluated the environmental impact of mining, and used artificial intelligence devices and satellite imagery to identify climate-vulnerable mine sites and for the surveillance of mining operations in order to address problems, she said.
“My ambition is to build up the contribution of the mining industry to the country so we don’t need to have to seek jobs abroad,” Loyzaga said, given that the mines currently represent only 1 percent or 2 percent of the gross domestic product.
But the country is also the world’s second-largest nickel ore producer and exporter, she said.
Nickel and nickel byproducts extracted in 2022 were valued at P117.64 billion, while mines dug up P25.67 billion of copper last year, according to a fact sheet from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau.
The 2022 production of gold, which is essential to the semiconductor trade, was valued at P91.05 billion.
Last year, the industry produced metallic minerals worth an estimated P238.2 billion, which was 31.9 percent higher than the value of metallic minerals (P180.61 billion) in 2021, when the COVID-19 pandemic began to ease.
Currently, China is the local nickel industry’s biggest buyer, followed by Japan and the United States, although demand has slowed down “because China has filled up its quota for the year,” said Danilo Uykieng, the MGB officer in charge, during an interview on Tuesday.
Uykieng said new mines were expected to begin ground development and construction of their project sites by 2025 now that the government has lifted most restrictions affecting the industry, such as the previous ban on open pit mining.
The Philippines could soon become a top exporter of copper once the Tampakan site of Sagittarius Mines Inc. in South Cotabato starts commercial operations in late 2026, said Finance Undersecretary Karlo Fermin Adriano.
The ambassadors of the United States, Australia and Canada in the Philippines expressed their support for, as well as interest in, the country’s push for critical minerals at the weeklong mine safety conference.
According to US Ambassador MaryKay Carlson, the Philippines has abundant resources that will preserve the world supply chain for green technology minerals, although “it is critical to balance the demands for mineral resources with environmental and economic sustainability.”
Carlson, during a mine networking reception hosted at the Ambassador’s Residence in Camp John Hay, told reporters that the US government had been investing in projects that reviewed and promoted “transparency and accountability in natural resource governance.”
Australian Ambassador Hae Kyong Yu said the same technologies would help the Philippines shift to “green mining” to bolster the industry’s advocacy for responsible and sustainable mines.
“Green mining” refers to mine operations that use environmentally sustainable resources like renewable energy which some local companies have started to tap.
On Thursday, Loyzaga signed a memorandum of understanding with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the University of the Philippines Public Administration Foundation for a $5 million technical assistance program “to develop the Philippines’ critical minerals sector.”
The Partnership for Sustainable Development and Investment in Mineral Extraction and Processing “supports the Philippine government’s vision of becoming a hub for the processing of minerals, such as nickel and copper,” said USAID Deputy Mission Director Rebekah Eubanks.
She said it “paves the way for Philippine industries to play a role in the production of electric vehicles for example.”