Platinum Group Metals Corp (PGMC), which extracts nickel ore in Surigao Del Norte in Mindanao, recorded P6.1 billion in revenue from contracts with Chinese customers in 2019 and posted a net income of P1.03 billion that year, its latest financial statements showed.
It also recorded nickel production of over 2.5 million dry metric tons in 2020, which was valued at about P5 billion, although the financial statements for last year were not yet available.
PGMC was the biggest earner among the mining companies ordered closed or suspended by the late Environment Secretary Regina “Gina” Lopez in February 2017. Many of them were able to continue operations while their permits went under review.
Ten of out of the total 28 mining companies in Lopez’s order posted net gains, based on their latest available financial statements. Sixteen posted net losses, while two others didn’t have information available from corporate regulators..
The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism mapped the mining firms in Lopez’s order. Click the map to see profiles of the mining companies. It shows information from their incorporation documents, financial statements, details about their host communities, and links to latest news stories. (Editor’s Note: The arrows point to the municipality where the mining companies operate, not the exact location of the operations.)
The 23 mining companies closed by Lopez are the following: Benguet Corp. | Ore Asia Mining and Development Corp. | BenguetCorp Nickel Mines Inc. | Eramen Mineral Inc. | Zambales Diversified Metals Corp. | LNL Archipelago Minerals Inc. | Mt. Sinai Mining Exploration and Development Corp. | Emir Mineral Resources Corp. | Techiron Resources Inc. | AAM-Phil Natural Resources and Development Corp. | Kromico Inc. (Krominco Inc.) | SinoSteel Philippines HY Mining Corp. | Oriental Synergy Mining Corp. | Wellex Mining Corp. | Libjo Mining Corp. | Oriental Vision Mining Philippines Corp. | ADNAMA Mining Resources Inc. | Claver Mineral Development Corp. | Platinum Group Metals Corp. | CTP Construction and Mining Corp. | Carrascal Nickel Corp. | Marcventures Mining and Development Corp. | Hinatuan Mining Corp.
Five other companies were ordered suspended: Berong Nickel Corp. | OceanaGold Phils Inc. | Lepanto Consolidated Mining Co. Inc. | Citinickel Mines and Development Corp. | Strong Built Mining Dev. Corp.
The map shows PGMC operating a mining area of 4,376 hectares in Claver, a small coastal town in northeastern Mindanao with a population of less than 40,000. Documents from the Securities and Exchange Commision (SEC) also showed that among its major stockholders are Global Ferronickel Holdings Inc. and businessman Joseph Sy, the board chairperson.
Twenty-one out of the 28 companies in Lopez’s order are involved in extracting nickel, which is in high demand globally. Based on available data, 14 firms mined a total of 11.85 million dry metric tons of nickel worth P15.22 billion in 2020. The country is the biggest supplier of nickel ores to China, a top metals consumer.
The status of the mining companies in the list are also presented in a table below.
Malacañang ordered the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) to review the audit conducted by Lopez. Since her crackdown on the industry four years ago, the MICC review remains pending and the results unknown.
PCIJ’s January 2021 request for information on the status of the review with Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea yielded no results as his office refused to disclose information on specific cases.
PCIJ’s second attempt to seek updates on the MICC review, on March 23, has yet to be answered by Medialdea’s office.
In an e-mail interview early this year, the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) said it was also waiting for Malacañang to resolve Lopez’s orders to “move mining forward.” COMP Vice President for Communications Rocky Dimaculangan said the MICC scheduled a second round of audits in early 2020. But he said he was unaware if this was completed.
Dimaculangan, also COMP’s national coordinator for sustainable mining, said two other policies that had stifled minerals development needed resolving. These are the moratorium on new mineral agreements (Executive Order 79, s. 2012) and the ban on open-pit mining (DENR Department Order 2017-10).
Duterte, who has kept the Aquino administration’s open-pit mining ban, has repeatedly singled out miners for degrading the environment, threatening them with tighter environmental rules.
The president’s pronouncements ran parallel with Lopez’s 2016 order for an industry-wide audit of large-scale mining, which has had a long history of negative impact on land and water resources, biodiversity, public health, indigenous communities and environmental defenders.
PCIJ requested a copy of the full audit from the DENR, but the office referred PCIJ to MGB. The DENR did not respond to PCIJ’s queries regarding the MICC review. Various reports have cited violations of environmental laws and environmental compliance certificates as reasons for the closure and suspension of the 28 mines.
As of writing, only two companies from the DENR’s list of 28 erring mines were reported to have permanently closed. Five have suspended mining permits or operations. Another firm’s mining permit application was denied. One was renegotiating the renewal of its permit. Five others were officially allowed to resume operations, while the remaining 14 appeared to have ongoing operations and have pending appeals with the Office of the President. Seventeen of the 28 firms reported mineral production with the MGB in 2020.
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On Nov. 12, 2018, the DENR under Secretary Roy Cimatu issued a resolution ordering the closure of Oriental Synergy Mining Corp., Claver Mineral Development Council and Ore Asia Mining and Development Corp.
The order stemmed from motions for reconsideration filed by 13 mining firms on the order issued by the DENR under Lopez. Motions filed by the three companies were denied. The DENR directed them to pay all fines and penalties. The agency also barred the transport of ore until full rehabilitation is undertaken by these mining companies.
In the same resolution, nine of the 13 mining companies that were previously ordered closed were suspended instead. Four of these firms would be allowed to resume operations later on.
These developments would be reflected in the Mines and Geosciences Bureau’s list of mineral production sharing agreement (MPSAs) as of Feb. 28, 2021. According to MGB, three of 23 mining firms ordered closed were listed as having suspended MPSAs: Wellex Mining operating in Libjo and Tubajon, Dinagat Islands; Eramen Minerals Inc. in Sta. Cruz and Candelaria, Zambales; and BenguetCorp Nickel Mines, Inc. in Sta. Cruz, Zambales.
MGB also listed Krominco Inc. and Mt. Sinai Mining Exploration and Development Corp. as having MPSAs “under care and maintenance,” but their commercial operations were “suspended.”
Details of DENR closure orders were included in some of the companies’ latest audited financial statements.
On Feb. 13, 2017, BenguetCorp Nickel Mines Inc. received an order from the DENR, cancelling its MPSA for its Sta. Cruz Nickel project. The order alleged that the company’s operations had overlapped a watershed in the area. Prior to this order, the DENR, in a separate report dated Oct. 3, 2016, found that the company had violated several conditions of its Environmental Compliance Certificate and other legal provisions.
On Feb. 22, 2017, the company filed an appeal before the Office of the President to revise the DENR cancellation order. The company claimed that it was operating within the Zambales chromite mineral reservation, which had been excluded from government-declared watersheds.
In its 2019 financial statement, the company noted that the Office of the President, as of March 20, 2019, had yet to respond to the appeal.
As for Eramen Minerals Inc., DENR cancelled the company’s permit for supposedly violating provisions of the following laws and regulations:
- Philippine Clean Water Act of 2004 and its implementing rules and regulations;
- Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999 and its amending Rule IX;
- Philippine Mining Act of 1995 and its implementing rules and regulations; and
- Revised Forestry Code of the Philippines.
In its appeal with the Office of the President, Eramen addressed the issues raised by DENR, claiming, among others, that the “non-issuance of the tree-cutting permit is the fault of the DENR as they failed to act on the various permits applied by the company” and that its mining operation “has not adversely impaired the functions of the watershed in the area based on a one-year scientific study conducted by UP NIGS (the University of the Philippines’s National Institute of Geological Sciences).”
The company also argued that the DENR violated the terms and conditions of the MPSA when it did not resort to arbitration before cancelling the agreement. Prior to the 2017 closure order, the DENR in 2014 directed the company to suspend hauling operations until conditions were met.
In 2016, concerned citizens of Sta. Cruz, Zambales filed a petition for a Writ of Kalikasan, an injunction, to be issued against five mining firms including BenguetCorp. and Eramen. The Supreme Court granted the petition. But after petitions made before the Court of Appeals, the provisional Writ of Kalikasan issued by the high court was lifted.
Wellex Mining Corp. also received an order from the DENR cancelling its MPSA. On Nov. 12, 2018, the department issued a resolution (1) partially granting Wellex’s motion for reconsideration on the 2017 cancellation order; (2) suspending the operation of the firm; and (3) directing it to do the following:
- correct all violations and deficiencies and conduct replacement planting in accordance with DENR Memorandum Order No. 2012-02 prescribing a uniform replacement ratio for cut or relocated trees; and
- pay all fines and penalties immediately upon receipt of the resolution.
In July 2020, Environment Undersecretary Benny Antiporda was quoted in a news report as saying that five firms were “granted approval by the Office of the President (OP) after complying with mining laws.”
The firms that were allowed to resume operations were:
- Berong Nickel Corp. in Palawan;
- Emir Mineral Resources Corp. in Eastern Samar;
- Zambales Diversified Metals Corp. in Zambales;
- Carrascal Nickel Corp. in Surigao del Sur; and
- Strong Built Mining Development Corp. in Leyte.
Nickel miner Emir, Zambales Diversified and Carrascal were ordered closed by Lopez in 2017. Berong, also a nickel miner, and Strong Built, which mines for magnetite sand, were supposed to be suspended.
According to MGB records, OceanaGold’s Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) expired on June 20, 2019. It filed a renewal application on Oct. 1, 2018. The MGB forwarded the application to the DENR on April 30, 2019. The DENR endorsed the application to the Office of the President.
On June 19, 2019, the Office of the President returned the application because it lacked the consent of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples.
On June 20, 2019, the MGB issued a letter to the DENR permitting OceanaGold to continue its mining operations pending the confirmation of its FTAA.
On the same day of the FTAA expiry, the provincial government of Nueva Vizcaya issued a directive calling on local officials to “restrain any operations” by OceanaGold in Didipio. This prompted OceanaGold to file legal cases against the provincial government, including an injunction against the barricade.
Mongabay, a nonprofit conservation and environmental science news platform, reported that the regional court rejected OceanaGold’s request for an injunction. This prompted the mining giant to take the ruling to the Court of Appeals.
In July 2020, the Court of Appeals dismissed OceanaGold's appeal to allow it to continue operating after its permit expired in June 2019.
In February 2021, the Philippine government and OceanaGold were reported to be finalizing the terms of the FTAA renewal. The renewal was expected to be endorsed to the Office of the President for approval.
PCIJ did not find details on the rest of the mines but they were included in the MGB list as having “existing” MPSAs. They are also listed as conducting commercial operations in MGB’s “directory of metallic operating mines as of January 2021.” These mines reported metallic mineral production and filed reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission in the last two years. – with research assistance from Stanley Gajete Buenafe and Angelica Carballo-Pago
This article was produced with the support of Internews' Earth Journalism Network.— PCIJ, March 2021