By Madelaine B. Miraflor
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is planning to push for various government-led mineral explorations across different parts of 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.
Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) Assistant Director Danilo Uykieng said it’s important for the government to have the capacity to do its own mineral exploration so it would really know how much deposits are in certain areas in the country as well as their value.
The Philippines’ untapped mineral deposits — composed of nickel, gold, copper, iron, and chromite — have been estimated to be worth US$1.4 trillion.
But Uykieng said this is just rough estimate. As of now, nobody really knows how much the Philippines has in terms of mineral deposits and where they are exactly.
It normally takes billions for mining companies to be able to conduct mineral explorations. The Philippine government used to do its exploration too but we never did it on our own.
“We had various explorations in the 1960s to 1990s. That was in partnership with JICA [Japan International Cooperation Agency],” Uykieng said.
The government of Japan, through JICA, particularly 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.
Years later, the government no longer conduct mineral explorations and while companies are allowed to do so, mining laws don’t allow them to touch whatever minerals they have found.
Executive Order (EO) 79 S. 2012, Section 4 allows the granting of exploration permits despite the moratorium on issuance of mineral agreements.
It also states the exploration permit grantee shall be given the right of first option to apply for development of minerals in the exploration site.
As of now, the local mining sector only operates within 2.35 percent of the 9 million hectares worth of areas with high mineral potential.
Uykieng said the Philippines still has an annual budget for mining exploration but it’s not enough.
“[In 2019], I think we we’re given P30 million for exploration. That’s too small,” he said.
Leones, for his part, said it’s not the DENR but the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) that gets to decide where it could spend its yearly allocation.
“We are always putting it [mineral exploration] in our budget allocation. But the DBM decides what activities have to be funded,” Leones said.
For this year, MGB, an attached agency to DENR that, will specifically receive a share of P469.07 million out of DENR’s P25 billion budget.
That will be used mainly for geohazard, ground water assessment, and responsible mining programs.
Leones said that for mineral exploration, MGB can always tap support from multilateral institutions.