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THE BANGSAMORO Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) has suspended all nickel mining operations in the southern province of Tawi-Tawi as it reviews mining policy in the mineral-rich, but volatile region.

Environment, Natural Resources and Energy Minister Abdulrauf Abdul Macacua was also quoted by Reuters as saying that the nickel mining operations in the province has been suspended indefinitely as the regional government conducts an industry audit.

The Philippines was the world’s second-largest nickel ore producer in 2018 after Indonesia, with both Southeast Asian nations as the top two suppliers to biggest buyer China.

And latest available industry data showed that 2.34 million wet metric tonnes (wmt) of high-grade ore, or nearly 90% of 2.66-million wmt of the high-grade material the Philippines exported to China in the first half of 2018 came from Tawi-Tawi, one of 5 provinces under the BARMM.

Tawi-Tawi accounted for 27% of overall nickel ore exports, totalling 15.8-million wmt, to China during the six-month period. “The suspension order was due to the on-going review of mining policy in BARMM,” Macacua said, adding, the audit is being conducted as the local government prepares to push for the enactment of a Bangsamoro Responsible Mining Law that will serve as a road map for the region’s mining industry.

A performance assessment and evaluation team has been created to review the mining firms’ operations, with no definite timeline as to how long the suspension will be, but the BARMM suspension order covers four mining companies actively operating in Tawi-Tawi out of seven that have been given permits, Macacua said, without identifying the four.

The suspension was based on a memorandum order dated August 5 issued by the regional government, Macacua said in an e-mail reply to Reuters’ queries about the status of mining in Tawi-Tawi, where SR Languyan Mining Corp, the country’s top supplier of high-grade material to China, operates.

SR Languyan’s average monthly ore exports this year is around 416 500 wmt, Macacua said.

There is no government data available about the size of ore deposits left at SR Languyan’s project. SR Languyan is expected to shut its mining operations later this year as ore deposits at its project are nearly depleted, Jaynul Ali Sambarani, head of mines and geoscience services at BARMM’s environment ministry, told Reuters.

Environmentalists said nickel mining activities have destroyed the environment on Tumbagaan Island in Tawi-Tawi’s Languyan town.

In 2016, the Regional Legislative Assembly had asked the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to issue an order stopping all destructive mining activities in the Muslim autonomous region.

Assemblyman Hanibal Tulawie, the chairman of the Committee on Environment and Ecology, previously said that a resolution was passed asking the DENR to immediately issue a “cease-and-desist” order on all mining companies operating in Tawi-Tawi and also in Basilan, Sulu, Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao provinces.

Tulawie said he had received numerous complaints from the public and environmentalists who are opposed to destructive mining methods. Photos of nickel mining operations in Tumbagaan Island posted on Facebook showed huge trucks and barges hauling off red soil, which was allegedly being shipped to China where it is processed.

Reports indicate that Tumbagaan Island is totally devastated because of mining explorations and the on-going nickel mining activities in Languyan municipality and Panglima Sugala.

By next year, when Indonesia bans nickel ore exports, China is expected to rely mainly on the Philippines for supply of the material for stainless steel and electronic vehicle battery, according to the Reuters report. The bulk of the Philippines’ total nickel ore output usually comes from the main mining region of Caraga, also in the south.

Philippine nickel miners may ramp up ore output by next year as they expect the Indonesian ore export ban and brisk demand to keep prices elevated. Their production capacity, however, is limited by a number of factors, including government-imposed mining curbs, industry executives said at a Philippine mining conference recently. (By Reuters, with additional reporting from the Mindanao Examiner and The Zamboanga Post.)


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