MANILA, Sept 3 A Philippine senator has filed a
bill urging a halt to exports of unprocessed mineral ores,
similar to a ban introduced by Indonesia that led to a sharp
spike in nickel prices and cut exports of other ores.
The Philippines, which has vast but largely untapped mineral
resources, has been looking at ways to raise the contribution of
mining to its economy.
The bill, filed in late August by Senator Paolo Benigno
Aquino, a first cousin of President Benigno Aquino, would
require domestic processing of all minerals extracted in the
country prior to export if passed into law.
This may require nickel miners, for example, to build more
smelters to process the ore before shipment. Some ores are
shipped directly to China and Japan for processing.
The Philippines currently has two processing plants for
nickel both owned by the country's top producer Nickel Asia Corp
, two for gold, and one for copper, according to the
Mines and Geosciences Bureau.
Paolo Benigno Aquino is one of 24 members of the upper house
Senate, which is dominated by allies of the president.
"This measure seeks to generate more domestic income,
attract more investments, and lead to more jobs and livelihood
for the Filipino people," the bill said in its explanatory note.
Mining contributed less than 1 percent of the Philippines'
gross domestic product from 2003 to 2012, the note said.
The proposed legislation comes at a time when the local
mining industry faces an uncertain future as the government aims
for new tax legislation to boost its share of mining revenues.
Conflicting regulations, such as whether or not to ban
open-pit mining, and a strong anti-mining lobby led by the
leadership of the local Roman Catholic Church have also deterred
investment and hampered projects, such as Glencore Plc's $5.9
billion Tampakan copper-gold mine in southern Philippines.
A similar bill was filed in July in the House of
Representatives by Congressman Erlpe John Amante, a copy of
which was seen by Reuters.
Mines and Geosciences Bureau head Leo Jasareno told Reuters
the state agency had not been consulted prior to the filing of
the Senate bill, but was conducting its own study on measures to
add value to the country's mineral output.
Asked if the bureau would recommend that the government
support the bill, Jasareno told Reuters: "We can't say until we
have seen the results of the study."
Jasareno said the study was being done after an executive
order issued by President Aquino in 2012 calling for a roadmap
for the development of value-adding activities and downstream
industries for metallic ores.
The office of Senator Aquino said the bill was filed without
any consultation with the government. The Senator hoped state
agencies will support the measure once it is discussed by the
Senate environment committee.
The timing of any potential ban on exports was unclear.
The Senate bill proposes six- to 12-year imprisonment plus a
fine equivalent to twice the value of seized mineral ores for
those found guilty of exporting mineral ores. The existing law
does not have limits on mineral ore exports.
The bill also seeks to amend certain provisions in the
Philippine Mining Act of 1995, which allow 100 percent foreign
ownership of mining.
(Reporting by Rosemarie Francisco and Erik dela Cruz in
MANILA.; Additional reporting by Melanie Burton in SYDNEY;
Editing by Richard Pullin)