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Zooming (and more) in the Pandemic

by Philippine Resources - December 01, 2020

By: Patricia A. O. Bunye

I have always wondered how the founder of Zoom, Eric Yuan, feels about making over USD12 billion since March 2020, when the pandemic began and practically everyone on the planet has been ‘Zoom-ing’ for work or play. With its simple features, Zoom has left competitors like Skype in the dust.

Yuan is now ranked No. 85 on Bloomberg's list of the 500 richest people in the world. Before 2020, he wasn't even on the list. He is also number 43 in the Forbes 400, the magazine's annual ranking of the 400 wealthiest people in America, for the first time in 2020. He also made it to Time’s 100 Most Influential this year.

It is not a fortune built overnight or by taking advantage of Covid 19, as some may wrongly assume. Yuan says he got the idea for Zoom while trying to find a way to connect with his long-distance girlfriend (now his wife) as a student. He was one of the original hires of WebEx, a videoconferencing startup, when he first moved to the US. When WebEx was acquired by Cisco Systems, Yuan pitched a new smartphone-friendly video conferencing system to Cisco management, but it was rejected. Cisco apparently preferred to concentrate on enterprise systems which was not the direction Yuan wanted to take, so Yuan left to establish his own company, Zoom Video Communications.

It is not widely known that Yuan has a connection to the mining industry: his parents are mining engineers and Yuan himself has a master’s degree in geology engineering from the China University of Mining and Technology in Beijing.

Thanks to Zoom, there a semblance of normalcy in our lives as it enables us to hold meetings, teleconferences, classes, negotiations, and lectures. I have attended masses, Holy Week services, a wedding, a wake, and reunions. This Christmas, I will likely see friends and family online there as well. Not a day has passed since the declaration of the lockdown in March that I have not connected with others via Zoom.

The silver lining of the pandemic, if you could call it that, is that it has opened many opportunities for online learning. Students are not the only ones who have classes to attend online. There is a wide array of webinars pertaining to my areas of practice available at the click of a mouse, as well as many other topics such as politics (starting with the US elections), economics and finance, as well as a number of my (nerdy) pursuits. In fact, it has developed in me FOMO: a fear of missing out on the sheer variety of offerings.

The Financial Times, for example, ran “The Commodities Mining Summit” online in October with the theme “A New Narrative for Mining”. With the 17 sessions featuring the CEOs of BHP, Anglo American, Glencore and Vale, among others, still available on demand, it is an unparalleled resource.

In his opening keynote, BHP’s CEO Mike Henry underscored that mining remains an essential industry, something that we know too well, but the larger population still fails to appreciate. He says that Covid 19 has given the industry an opportunity to demonstrate its capabilities: how quickly it can mobilize, particularly in safeguarding the health of the companies’ workforces, to support the communities and business partners. According to him, the value created is not just for direct stakeholders, but the resources produced, the ability to generate employment, taxes, royalties, and dividends in a time of crisis is a “positive differentiator” relative to other industries, which produces economic development and an improvement in living standards throughout the world. He further stressed that there is little choice as to whether mining happens or not, but the choice is as to how it happens and who does it.

In this regard, Mike Henry highlighted the role that commodities play in “rebuilding a better world”, particularly in addressing climate change and de-carbonization. He also emphasized the “build back better” (BBB) approach in relation to recovering after Covid 19, i.e., continuing to ensure sustainability as the mining industry bounces back.

That commodities are essential was seconded by Glencore’s Ivan Glasenberg in a succeeding panel. He said that “new generation companies” like Tesla all depend on mining for the commodities that they require for batteries, solar panels, windmills and like. Unfortunately, he said, mining companies “get it wrong” by building new mines and underestimating the cost.

Mark Cutifani of Anglo American, for his part, said that it is time for mining companies to stop thinking in terms of B2B (business to business) and start thinking in terms of B2C (business to consumer) so that the dialogue around mining shifts, i.e., when people talk about the provenance of products, they will become more comfortable with the idea that when they drive a car, build a house, use electrical power, or even drink water, the mining industry is involved in everything.

Apart from this outstanding series of the FT, I have enjoyed the Wall Street Journal’s Women in the Workplace Forum where Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg was one of the many speakers. It was also an occasion to launch “Women in the Workplace 2020” LeanIn.org’s comprehensive study on women in corporate America in collaboration with McKinsey & Co. What struck me in the study was that, notwithstanding the many gains made by women, Covid 19 has presented more challenges or demands on them in terms of additional child care or home schooling responsibilties, the health/illnesses of family members, mental issues/burnout, and other unique issues brought by the pandemic.

One of the best online engagements I’ve had so far was a networking evening where the participants received cocktail making kits at home prior to the event and a bartender demonstrated how to mix drinks via Zoom.

Next May, a conference that I attend annually may possibly be held 24/7 by Zoom to enable its members worldwide to participate from different timezones in 6 hour shifts. A radical idea, but with the world turned upside down by Covid 19, anything is possible these days.

Patricia A. O. Bunye is a Senior Partner at Cruz Marcelo & Tenefrancia where she heads its Mining & Natural Resources Department and Energy practice group. She is also the Founding President of Diwata-Women in Resource Development, Inc., a non-government organization advocating the responsible development of the Philippines’ wealth in resources, principally, through industries such as mining, oil and gas, quarrying, and other mineral resources from the earth for processing.



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Philippine Resources - June 08, 2020

Responding to COVID-19 in the Mining Industry

By Patricia A. O. BunyeOn 08 March 2020, the Philippine Government declared a State of Public Health Emergency throughout the entire archipelago in light of confirmation of the local transmission of COVID-19. All government agencies and local government units were tasked to assist, cooperate and mobilize resources to undertake critical, urgent and appropriate responses to address the exigencies of the situation. Since then, government agencies have been releasing the appropriate issuances to implement measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 and adapt to the crisis.The Mines and Geosciences Bureau (“MGB”), the government agency responsible for the conservation, management, development and use of the country’s mineral resources, likewise issued several memoranda instituting various measures to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, including realignment of funds, extension of deadlines, adoption of alternative work arrangements and implementation of safety protocols for operations in the mining sector. Realignment of Social Development and Management Program BudgetIn a Memorandum dated 27 March 2020, the MGB authorized mining companies to re-align unutilized funds from their Social Development and Management Program (“SDMP”) to assist host and neighboring communities around mining projects, as well as the non-impact barangays in their respective localities, until the threat of COVID-19 has abated. The principal objective of the re-alignment is to make use of the unutilized SDMP funds for the social amelioration of communities around the mining projects through the provision of health or hygiene kits and food packs in order to efficiently and timely respond to the needs of the communities to combat COVID-19. As of 27 May 2020, approximately Php297 million of the SDMP budget has been utilized to aid the concerned frontliners and households. Extension of DeadlinesAside from food and medical provisions, the MGB also provided legal relief by relaxing the rules on submission of documents and payment of fees, taking into consideration the logistical, social and economic difficulties encountered as a result of quarantine measures. In this regard, the MGB issued a notice allowing the extension of deadlines of the submission of reportorial requirements and proof of payment of occupation and other regulatory fees as prescribed under the Mining Permit/Contract up to 30 June 2020, or up to the immediate submission date when the pertinent quarantine is lifted. Protocols for the Resumption of Mining and Mineral Processing Operations under General Community Quarantine (“GCQ”)Following the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (“IATF-MEID”), the Philippine Government announced on 28 May 2020 that Metro Manila, along with other regions classified as low-risk and high-to-moderate risk areas for coronavirus transmission, would transition from a strict lockdown under the Enhanced Community Quarantine (“ECQ”) to a less stringent GCQ beginning 01 June 2020. While movement and transportation is limited under both quarantine protocols to avoid the further spread of COVID-19, the transition from the stringent measures of ECQ to the relaxed measures of GCQ is expected to benefit the economy and the workforce as it allows for the reopening of several industries previously ordered closed under ECQ for not being essential industries. With the easing of quarantine measures in most parts of the Philippines to support the economy, the mining sector and other select industries are now allowed to operate at limited or full capacity. However, since the threat of COVID-19 transmission is still present as cases continue to rise every day, operations of industries are allowed but remain subject to the condition that they follow strict safety protocols. In line with this, the MGB has released guidelines for the resumption of mining and mineral processing operations under GCQ under Memorandum Order No. 2020-004. Workforce and Working ArrangementsUnder the guidelines, a workforce anywhere between 50% up to full operational capacity at the mine/plant site shall be allowed, without prejudice to work from home and other alternative work arrangements. In order to determine who will be required to report for work, mining contractors or permit holders are mandated to conduct personnel profiling in accordance with the IATF-MEID guidelines. Employees not allowed to report for work or those who are prescribed to be on self-quarantine shall be subject to special work arrangements, such as work from home. Responsibilities of Mining EmployersAside from personnel profiling, mining contractors or permit holders are also required to provide for the necessary medical equipment and supplies, such as thermal scanners, masks, gloves, and hand sanitizers, as well as transportation to and from mine and plant sites and accommodation for employees residing five (5) kilometers away from the mine or plant site in order to reduce exposure to the virus and protect the workers from infection. To further ensure the safety and health of the mining workforce, mining contractors or permit holders are also enjoined to observe strict sanitation and physical distancing measures. Guidelines for shipment of minerals and mineral products In cases of shipment of minerals or mineral products, supplies and materials, the guidelines require that cargo vessels shall undergo a 14-day quarantine beginning from the time of its departure at the last port of call.No vessel crew may be allowed to disembark from the vessel and only personnel authorized by the Philippine Ports Authority and cleared by the Quarantine Medical Officer may board the vessel subject to observation of a “no contact” policy within the vessel. Additionally, miners are enjoined to follow measures to contain the spread of the disease, such as (a) submitting a Shipment Report containing the information on the crew list, the port of origin and the COVID-19 test results of the crew; and (b) passing through holding/disinfection areas for persons who shall board and disembark from the vessel.The guidelines, as well as the other measures implemented by the MGB, address the immediate impacts of COVID 19. In the longer term, mining companies need to consider the opportunities and risks arising from this crisis. While for some commodities, the short-term market demand may be low, other commodities like gold typically benefit in times of high uncertainty. Another so-called silver lining for the industry is the lower cost of energy, which usually constitutes 20-25% of operating costs.During this period, companies are also like to respond by rationalizing or streamlining their operations and their workforces, including automating more functions and processes. They will also be called upon to provide services, particularly in health care, to the host and neighboring communities ‘above and beyond compliance’ as these communities are often already underserved by the government.More than simply adapting to the crisis, mining companies are challenged to respond with resilience, particularly in navigating new or increased legal or financial risks. It is a brave new unprecedented world for us all, where only those who can embrace change will survive.Patricia A. O. Bunye is a Senior Partner at Cruz Marcelo & Tenefrancia where she heads its Mining & Natural Resources Department and Energy practice group. She is also the Founding President of Diwata-Women in Resource Development, Inc., a non-government organization advocating the responsible development of the Philippines’ wealth in resources, principally, through industries such as mining, oil and gas, quarrying, and other mineral resources from the earth for processing.

Commentary

Philippine Resources - June 08, 2020

What the PH can Learn from Indonesia's Successful Nickel Industry - Part 2

By Marcelle P. VillegasPreviously, we featured an update on the mining regulations in the Philippines. We also examined the export volumes of nickel ore from the Philippines and how these had been affected by Indonesia's exports. Lastly, we discussed the viability of the Philippines' laterite ore deposits and what this could mean for future production. These were the scope of a presentation by Mr George Bujtor last September at the 7th Asian Nickel Conference in Jakarta, Indonesia. His report is titled “Philippines: Regulatory Update and the Potential of the Philippine Laterite Ore” - “How the Philippines was Surpassed by Indonesia in the Laterite Nickel Industry”. Mr Bujtor is the CEO and owner of private companies, namely Electric Metals Limited (EML) in Hong Kong and PT Electric Metals Indonesia. These are companies which are developing the innovative EML Process for the low-cost leaching of nickel laterite ores. The EML Process is the first of its kind in green technology in nickel processing, and he introduced this at the Asian Nickel Conference in Indonesia last September.Mr Bujtor is an expert in the technical, financial and commercial aspects of mining operations with over 35 years of experience in the industry. He has extensive work experience in the past as General Manager and Managing Director in Rio Tinto, Australia. In the Philippines is the former CEO of Toledo Mining Corporation and Berong Nickel Mine in Palawan, as well as CEO of Atlas Mining Corporation. As a review from Part I of our article, we learned from Mr Bujtor that the Philippines is currently Asia's leading supplier of nickel and cobalt which are raw materials for the battery sector. He stated that with the right policies, the Philippines could become one of the world's leading suppliers of battery raw materials, including battery manufacturing. [1]He said, "Both the Philippines and Indonesia have the resources to dominate the nickel industry. The future growth will be in stainless steel and the battery sector. ""Over the next 4 to 5 years, nickel demand growth will be in the stainless steel and battery sectors. Indonesia will continue to dominate the NPI growth and investment. The Philippines will only be able to compete in the battery sector." Now, what is the future of the Philippine laterite nickel ores? With regards to the competitiveness of Indonesia versus the Philippines, he mentioned that, "Relative to Indonesia, the Philippines has NO competitive advantage in ferro-nickel production." He gave the following key points:Indonesia has built, and continues to build, power stations to provide the electricity to its ferro-nickel industry. The Philippines has limited coal resources and a negative view of coal-fired power stations.With past high grading and sales of saprolite ores, little high-grade saprolite tonnage remains in the Philippines to produce low cost ferro-nickel/NPI.Indonesia has the advantage of having considerably higher saprolite ore grades and lesser environmental controls. These are key cost drivers.The future for the Philippines is not in ferro-nickel or NPI.He concluded, "The future of the Philippines lies in the processing of its laterite ores as battery raw materials…” Here is why: The Philippines is currently one of two producers of battery raw materials in Asia, through the Nickel Asia/Sumitomo JV.Sumitomo has the world’s leading technology for HPAL.The Philippines has large resources of laterite ores with medium to high Ni, Co & Sc grades.Hydrometallurgical processes like HPAL require very little electricity relative to ferro-nickel production.The Philippines leads the world in an innovative atmospheric leaching process adapted for the tropics – ‘The EML Process’ –a low cost atmospheric leaching processGreen products for a green future As mentioned earlier, The EML Process is the first of its kind in green technology in nickel processing. "The low environmental impact either locally or globally of the EML process not only produces products green in colour (nickel), but green in nature to promote the ever-increasing demand for battery and related metals to combat the continued burning of fossil fuels and consequent global environmental pollution." [2]The EML Process was developed in the Philippines. It is an atmospheric leaching process (done at room temperatures and pressure) adapted to treat all laterite nickel ores. (The two methods of atmospheric leaching done by EML are vat leaching and tank leaching.) Here are some key points: Test work undertaken in the Philippines leveraging off Cu, Au, Li and Ni experience“Closed system” with leached ore placed back into mined-out areas –no emissions to land, air or waterLowest carbon footprint and environmentally the “greenest” of all Ni technologiesDisruptive technology with lowest capital cost in the industry at Does not require a power station [1]"The EML Process is not only simple and safe but provides an environmental solution to the laterite nickel industry hitherto much maligned for its poor environmental rehabilitation performance, excess CO2 emissions and excess waste generated."“The principals behind Electric Metals Limited have developed an innovative leaching process to treat tropical nickel laterites, both saprolite and limonite ores. The process can also be applied to other ores of lithium, copper gold, uranium etc.”“The leach process has industry lowest capital costs and is environmentally far superior to the more complex and expensive technologies such as the High Pressure Acid Leach (HPAL) and Rotary Kiln Electric Furnace (RKEF) processes.” [3]The three essential steps in the EML Process include:1. Leaching of the laterite ore: Mined ore is contacted with dilute sulphuric acid to dissolve the nickel & cobalt (as well as other metals like aluminium, scandium, manganese, etc).2. Metals Recovery: Solutions containing the metals of interest are treated to recover the contained nickel & cobalt initially, as a mixed hydroxide product containing 35% to 55% nickel and 1% to 3% cobalt.3. Neutralization: Leached ore is washed and neutralised prior to being returned to the mined-out open pit. The leached ore residue is non-toxic and chemically inert and suitable for revegetation or agriculture.In summary, while the issue of nickel processing and environmental concerns may be a topic of debate among environmental activists and industrialists, the solution lies in having a gamechanger in the nickel processing arena. Today, we now have a low-cost and environment-friendly nickel processing method called The EML Process. This offers a promising future in the industry and for the environment as well. -----Acknowledgement:Thank you to Mr George Bujtor of Electric Metals Limited. -----Reference:[1] Bujtor, George. (11 Sept. 2019). “Philippines: Regulatory Update and the Potential of the Philippines Laterite Ore -- How the Philippines was Surpassed by Indonesia in the Laterite Nickel Industry”. Presented at Asian Nickel Conference 2019, Jakarta Indonesia[2] Retrieved from Electric Metals Limited website - https://electricmetalsltd.wordpress.com/[3] Bujtor, George and Wallwin Peter. (02 May 2020). “The EML Process”. Electric Metals Limited investor flyer. Photo credit: Marcelle P. Villegas, Philippine Resources Journal

Commentary

Philippine Resources - December 01, 2020

Infrastructure Investments to Return Philippine Economy to Growth

By: Fernando PenarroyoThe Philippine economy grew on average by 6.3 percent annually over the last decade due to the country’s sound macroeconomic policies and structural economic reforms under President Rodrigo Duterte and his predecessor Benigno Aquino III. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Philippine economy ranked among the best performers in Asia. A December 2019 survey showed that most Filipinos deemed that the Duterte administration was building infrastructure “better” than previous administrations through the “Build Build Build” (BBB) program. The Philippines is among the most vulnerable countries in the world susceptible to risks from climate change, and volcanic, and tectonic activities. Hazard-resilient infrastructure will help lessen the impact of natural disasters.Regulators have markedly scaled-up public infrastructure investment, from an average of 3% of gross domestic product (GDP) during 2011–2016 to 5.1% in 2018. They plan to boost investment further to over 6% of GDP by 2022.The Duterte administration is banking on its infrastructure development program to be the main driver of the country’s economic recovery as the Philippines is currently in economic recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Philippines has suffered from one of the region's worst COVID outbreaks and among the top 25 countries with infections and fatalities, and with the longest government-imposed lockdown. To the credit of the government, a number of infrastructure projects has seen completion despite the quarantine measures in the past months. The two most anticipated infrastructure projects - the Metro Manila Skyway and the Metro Manila Subway, are expected to decongest the worsening transportation situation in the National Capital Region. To address capital's notoriously gridlocked roads particularly along the main artery traversing the city, the Metro Manila Skyway System (Skyway) is a 40-km long elevated expressway that cuts through greater Metro Manila. The Skyway, will connect the South Luzon Expressway with the North Luzon Expressway passing through the major cities of the National Capital Region including, Makati, Manila, Muntinlupa, Paranaque, Taguig, Quezon City, Caloocan, Pasay City and San Juan. With the completion of the Skyway Stage 3, the elevated expressway will also help cut the travel time between Metro Manila and Clark International Airport in Pampanga.On the other hand, the Metro Manila Subway (Subway) is the most expensive transportation project undertaken by the Duterte administration. The Subway, an underground rapid transit line currently under construction, spans a 36-kilometer line, which will run north–south between Quezon City, Pasig, Makati, Taguig, and Pasay consisting of 17 stations. It will become the country's second direct airport rail link after the North–South Commuter Railway, with a branch line to Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3. It is scheduled to be partially operational in 2022 and fully operational by 2025.In addition, construction of six railway projects is also underway. Once all the railway projects are completed, the number of stations across all railway systems will increase to 169 from 59, the number of trains to 1,425 from 221, and daily ridership to 3.26 million from 1.02 million.Following the COVID-19 pandemic however, the “BBB” program encountered setbacks with the realignment of part of its budget to finance the government’s response to the health and socio-economic crises. In the first semester of 2020, the government’s spending on infrastructure fell by 4.3% year on year to P297.9 billion. The 2020 budgets of the implementing agencies of the BBB program were also cut to fund dole-outs and medical response costing around PHP 121.9 billion (US$2.5 billion).The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) was left with a much-lowered infrastructure program spending budget for 2020 at around PHP 458.9 billion (US$9.4 billion) down from PHP 580.9 billion (US$11.9 billion) while the Department of Transportation suffered a budget cut of around PHP 8.8 billion (US$181.2 million) from its original budget of around PHP147 billion (US$3.02 billion). Despite budget cuts in public spending on infrastructure projects, the government has revised the list of flagship projects and reprioritized its infrastructure program. The National Economic and Development Authority Board approved a revised list of 104 projects worth P4.1 trillion under the “BBB” program. In response to the country’s post-pandemic needs, the government came out with a new list that included the national broadband program, an irrigation project, transportation infrastructure projects, health care systems, and the construction of the Virology Science and Technology Institute of the Philippines with an estimated total value of around PHP 4.1 trillion (US$84.4 billion) Under the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021, the government increased the budget for infrastructure development by 41% to P1.107 trillion from the reduced P785.5-billion budget this year, with the biggest allocation of P157.5 billion going to the DPWH.Reverting to PPPsPublic-Private Partnership (PPP) will play an increasingly important role in the “BBB” infrastructure plan to tap on private capital as the government’s ambitious infrastructure plans face fiscal challenges. This marks a shift back to the investment policy previously adopted by the Aquino administration and will offer more opportunities for private sector participation. However, the present administration has tighten provisions employed by the Aquino government which present regulators deem to be ‘detrimental’ to public interest, including automatic rate increases, commitments of non-interference, and non-compete clauses.Since the start of 2020, PPP projects have reportedly raised Php1 trillion ($20.62 billion) worth of investments as approved by the Interagency Investment Coordination Committee-Cabinet Committee. These include the $15-billion second airport for Manila signed in September 2020. San Miguel Corp. entered into a $15-billion contract with the government to build Manila’s second aviation gateway in Bulacan province, 30 minutes north of the capital. The build-operate-transfer project, covered by a 50-year concession deal, calls for a new airport designed to accommodate up to 200 million passengers annually aim at decongesting the overcrowded Ninoy Aquino International Airport.On the power side, ongoing projects include the LNG Import Facility in Batangas at the cost of $2 billion. The Department of Energy recently issued an order calling for a moratorium on the endorsements of the construction of future coal-fired power plants. Also, the DOE has finally confirmed that foreign-owned companies can engage in geothermal exploration, development, and utilization. This is provided under the Renewable Energy Law of 2008 which defined geothermal as mineral resources. The Philippine Constitution allows foreign ownership of large-scale petroleum, minerals, and mineral oils projects. These two developments are expected to benefit the incipient imported LNG and renewable energy industries.According to the “Procuring Infrastructure PPP” component of Fitch Solutions Country Risk & Industry Research’s Project Risk Index (Fitch PRI), the Philippines has a relatively well-structured PPP framework compared to other major South-East Asian emerging markets,. Its well-developed PPP program is mainly driven by the Philippine PPP Center, an administrative body tasked with providing technical assistance to various stakeholders involved in the PPP transaction and advocating policy reforms to improve the PPP framework. There currently exists three pieces of legislature - Republic Act Nos. 9184, 6957 and 7718, which provides the legal framework in the implementation of PPP projects.Challenges and RisksWhile the PPP business environment for infrastructure has a supportive institutional framework for private sector participation, the World Economic Forum’s global competitiveness report places the Philippines among the lowest in ASEAN in key infrastructure services and substantially lower than the ASEAN average in overall infrastructure. Given the prospects of a high demand for infrastructure from economic and demographic growth, there is a need for a significant upgrade.According to Fitch PRI, the Philippines rank lowly in both indicators of construction timeliness (Bureaucratic Environment and Construction Permit), pointing to a heightened risk of completion delays. In addition to project risk, there exists high operational risk, mainly attributable to crime and security risks, as the country suffers from high levels of crime and is vulnerable to terrorist attacks. In the 2018 Corruption Perception Index, the Philippines was ranked 99 out of 180 countries, indicating a high level of corruption which undermines the effectiveness of laws and regulations in place.Electricity generation capacity per capita is among the lowest in ASEAN while power transmission and distribution loss is at the ASEAN average. The government must address the need to enhance capacity with the expected continuous high economic growth. Also, with the impending depletion of the Malampaya natural gas field, there is a need to replace this energy source. The Malampaya gas-to-power facility comprises 21% of the total generation mix in the country and fuels five power plants with a total generating capacity of 3,211 megawatts.Internet speed in the Philippines is among the slowest and most expensive in the world, no thanks to under-investment, poor government policy and the country’s archipelagic nature. In a 2018 test measuring the average download speed of a 5GB file, the Philippines ranked 97th in the world (at 1hr 52min) compared to 8 min in Taiwan, 9 min in its ASEAN neighbor Singapore, and Thailand at 37 minutes. Slow internet speed puts the country at a great disadvantage. Industry consolidation in the last 30 years has resulted to the virtual duopoly of Globe Telecom and Smart Telecom. The Duterte government recently gave the third franchise to a new operator, Dito Telecom, which promised to use the latest 5G technology, install 10,000 cell sites and roll out services by March 2021.Investors continues to face a high degree of risks as the infrastructure program is undermined by a number of major impediments, particularly the four Cs - inadequate cost recovery, corruption, insufficient competition, and low credibility of institutions. Despite having one of the most comprehensive PPP frameworks in the region, the government must institute reforms to tackle these impediments.Improving Infrastructure Investments ManagementEnsuring that the government properly manages its infrastructure spending will be a challenge. Enhancing public investment management would contribute to timely and cost-effective planning and execution of infrastructure projects. A recent IMF Public Investment Management Assessment ranks the Philippines similarly to its regional peers, but observes an efficiency gap of about 23% compared with best practices in translating public investment into infrastructure. As recommended in the report, project appraisals can be enhanced by requiring upfront identification of risk mitigation measures and publishing appraisal analyses to elicit comments from the public. An adequate identification and management of risks will complement public sector efforts in infrastructure promotion. Regulators can also embark on an update of the legal framework to include encouraging new forms of PPPs and developing domestic capital markets that will entice more private-sector participation, as long as financial risks to the government are well managed.Measures to promote competition and trade would reinforce the benefits of other reforms. Recent reforms have focused on reducing the costs of doing business through increased administrative and regulatory efficiency with the establishment of the Anti-Red Tape Authority, promoting one-stop shops, e-platforms, standardization of licensing procedures, and regulatory transparency. Implementation of the ease-of-doing-business law will complement efforts to cut red tape as well by increasing transparency and accountability of regulatory agencies.Greater competition will help in managing costs and reducing risks of corruption. Although an institutional framework is in place for transparent and competitive public procurement process, reforms are still needed to ensure that the process is made more competitive. Competition is still not sufficiently effective in practice with many tenders resulting in bid rigging. Competition can also be promoted by imposing stricter sanctions on anti-competitive practices, such as larger financial penalties and longer exclusion from future tendering. Making procurement information more easily accessible and ensuring that bidders are technically and financially qualified will increase transparency. Authorities should also be insulated from short-term political pressures so as not to undermine regulatory credibility. Upgrades in public information technology infrastructure, such as e-invoicing and digital national identification cards, will also promote efficiency and transparency.Despite recent progress, high barriers to foreign direct investment remain in the Philippines. Lowering obstacles to foreign investment, currently pegged at 40%, will stimulate private investment, ease domestic capacity constraints, and facilitate absorption of frontier technologies. Finally, tax reform can help sustain the infrastructure push while safeguarding fiscal sustainability. The government’s recent tax reforms have led to a significant increase in revenue collection but it is imperative to pass the remaining packages of reforms for further improvements in the tax system once the country is out of the pandemic crisis. These reforms will support sustainable investment in infrastructure and human capital.ConclusionThe infrastructure industry remains an important engine of growth for the Philippine economy but despite recent progress, there still are relatively high barriers and procedural hurdles that hampers the development of its full potential. Strengthening the public procurement process with greater competition and transparency, and allowing greater foreign participation in domestic projects would help in managing costs and reducing risks. Private investment is projected to increase over time with the government’s infrastructure push and ongoing economic policy reform efforts, which will lead to higher economic growth and subsequent investments in education, health care, digital technologies, climate change and natural disasters mitigation.Fernando “Ronnie” S. Penarroyo specializes in Energy and Resources Law, Project Finance and Business Development. He may be contacted at fspenarroyo@gmail.com for any matters or inquiries in relation to the Philippine resources industry. Atty. Penarroyo’s commentaries are also archived at his professional blogsite at www.penarroyo.comReferencesHilotin, Jay, Philippines: $85 Billion Infrastructure Spending in 104 Projects, Gulf News, 01 October 2020, https://gulfnews.com/business/philippines-85-billion-infrastructure-spending-in-104-projects-1.1601554247671Malindog-Uy, Anna, “Build Build Build” Program Amid a Pandemic, The ASEAN, 13 September 2020, https://theaseanpost.com/article/build-build-build-program-amid-pandemicNoble, Luz Wendy T., Infrastructure Push to Aid Recovery, BusinessWorld, 14 September 2020, https://www.bworldonline.com/infrastructure-push-to-aid-recovery/Philippines IMF Country Report 20/36, 06 February 2020, https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/CR/Issues/2020/02/05/Philippines-2019-Article-IV-Consultation-Press-Release-and-Staff-Report-49021Philippine Infrastructure To Rely More On Private Capital, Infrastructure & Project Finance / Philippines, Fitch Solutions Country Risk & Industry Research, 12 November 2019, https://www.fitchsolutions.com/infrastructure-project-finance/philippine-infrastructure-rely-more-private-capital-12-11-2019Takuji, Komatsuzaki, Improving Public Infrastructure in the Philippines, Asian Development Review, vol. 36, no. 2, pp. 159–184, 2019, https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/wp/2016/wp1639.pdfThe Philippines: A Good Time to Expand the Infrastructure Push, IMF Country Focus, 06 February 2020, https://www.imf.org/en/News/Articles/2020/02/06/na020620the-philippines-a-good-time-to-expand-the-infrastructure-push

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Philippine Resources - May 07, 2021

Semirara Mining Expects Profit Recovery This Year

Semirara Mining and Power Corp. (SMPC), a publicly traded integrated energy firm, expect some profit recovery this year, owing to improved coal and power demand and costs. SMPC chairman and CEO Isidro Consunji said at the company's virtual stockholders' meeting that the company's bottom line will boost as the coal and energy markets rebound from last year's historic lows. “To take advantage of the upswing, we will capitalize on our COVID-19 resiliency and adaptation strategy of focusing on our people, finances, and execution skills. However, given our operational headwinds and until our country reaches herd immunity, it is unlikely that we will return to our pre-pandemic profit level this year,” he said. The business ended in 2020 with a combined net income of P3.3 billion, down 66% from P9.6 billion the previous year. Revenues dropped 36.2 per cent to P23.3 billion as coal production, sales, and prices fell, while energy sales fell due to low power rates and Southwest Luzon Power Generation Corp's (SLPGC) expected and unplanned outages. The coal division of SMPC and the SLPGC plants will be the key drivers of development this year. With remedial steps introduced in Molave North Block 7 (NB7), the coal industry is expected to reach 13 million metric tons, according to SMPC president and COO Maria Cristina Gotianun. “This year, we expect our coal business to perform better on the back of recovering consumption and prices. The remedial measures we have been implementing since December have also allowed us to steadily normalize production. Now that the water seepage at NB7 has gone down to manageable levels, we expect annual production to hit 13 million metric tons,” she said. Due to excessive water seepages, SMPC postponed mining operations in Molave NB7 in early December, reducing coal output by 13% to 13.2 million metric tons. SLPGC is expected to drive profits in SMPC's power market due to higher sales, but Sem-Calaca Power Corp. (SCPC) is expected to produce poor performance. SCPC is the owner of the Calaca coal-fired power plant in Batangas, which it bought from the government in 2009 for $362 million. In the same location, SLPGC operates a 2x150-MW coal power plant. “For this year, we expect uneven results from our power subsidiaries. SLPGC is set to stage a strong profit recovery because of higher plant availability and better spot market prices. Unfortunately, SCPC is likely to deliver disappointing results because of the forced outage of its Unit 2 beginning Dec. 3 last year,” Gotianun said. SCPC's outage was triggered by a seven-month-old generator stator failing. Repairs are currently being negotiated with generator provider GE, according to Gotianun. “While they have agreed to cover the majority of the costs related to fixing the equipment, we are intent on making them shoulder all the necessary expenses. We expect to complete our negotiations within the year,” she said. “In the meantime, we are doing our best to fast track the repair of the generator. If all goes well, Unit 2 can be up and running by the third quarter of this year,” Gotianun said. This year, SMPC will invest P4 billion to rebound from last year's slump. The overall sum will be divided between SCPC and SLPGC for their prevention and repair services, with P2.9 billion going to buy mining and service equipment for the coal industry. Since the COVID-19 pandemic placed a burden on the company's liquidity last year, the management agreed to delay P3.7 billion of CAPEX to this year as part of its cash saving steps.

Mining

Philippine Resources - May 07, 2021

Australian Mining Firms Show Interest in the Philippines

According to Australia's Ambassador to the Philippines, Steven Robinson, several Australian mining firms have shown interest in mining in the Philippines, and the recent lifting of a nine-year ban on new mining ventures has paved the way for the possibility of responsible and world-class mining. Robinson said that mining if conducted safely and in accordance with international standards, could help the Philippines recover from the effects of the pandemic's economic impact. “The miners that we already have here—Orica [Philippines], OceanaGold, Red 5 [group], a number of them—are already thinking about what the future holds for them as a result of that ban being lifted,” he said in a virtual briefing on Monday. “They have started to reach out to us just in recent times to express interest in mining across the Philippines. I think that is a very positive step for the Philippines and good for Australian miners here,” he added, when asked to comment on the lifting of the ban. Malacanang recently released Executive Order No. 130, effectively lifting the nine-year ban on new mining deals. The order reversed a clause of then-President Benigno Aquino III's Executive Order No. 79, which was issued in 2012. The EO included a clause prohibiting the issuance of new mining licenses or mining output sharing arrangements unless a new revenue-sharing scheme was established. President Rodrigo Duterte said that the mining tax scheme included in the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Act had already met the EO's requirements. The TRAIN Act increased the excise on minerals, mining goods, and quarry services from 2% to 4%, lowering personal income taxes while increasing consumption taxes. Duterte previously stated that the country had only used about 5% of its natural wealth. According to the Australian ambassador, this demonstrated that there was something that could be achieved in the world to assist in its economic recovery. “The Philippines is a natural resource-rich country, and there’s much that could be done here that will really benefit the Philippines’ recovery, and Australian firms know that,” Robinson said. 

Industry

Philippine Resources - May 07, 2021

AC Energy Focuses on 12GW of Renewable Energy Projects

AC Energy (ACEN) is operating on approximately 12 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy (RE) projects, more than double its goal of five GW for 2025, as it strives to become Southeast Asia's largest listed RE network. At COL Financial's briefing, ACEN President and CEO Eric Francia said the 12GW of projects placed the Ayala-led company in a fantastic position to achieve its long-term goals. Solar and wind platforms will make up the majority of the projects it plans to begin in 2021. With 5,200 megawatts (MW), Australia leads the way, followed by the Philippines with 3,400MW, Vietnam with 2,400MW, and India and other Asia-Pacific countries with 900MW. 1,000MW of the 12GW projects in the pipeline are expected to reach financial close in the next six to twelve months, bringing the company more than halfway to its target. By the end of the year, ACEN hopes to obtain regulatory clearance for the influx of foreign funds. The Ayala Group's power arm is maintaining a follow-on offering (FOO) until Friday, with shares priced at Php6.50 per share. “We are grateful for the continued support of our regulators and for the overwhelming response we received from the institutional investors during the book-building process. The exceptional investor support reinforces AC Energy’s position as the region’s leading renewables platform,” Francia said in a statement disclosed to the Philippine Stock Exchange. The FOO is part of a five-step effort by the company to generate Php30 billion for clean energy programs this year. “The FOO completes the company’s successful fundraising efforts this year and allows it to play a meaningful role in the green-led recovery,” Francia added.

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