Lifting the open-pit ban and using 'AI' in mining
by Patricia A. O. Bunye - August 31, 2021
In my previous column, I had mentioned that, in the Stakeholders’ Forum on Recent Policy Issuances Relating to Mining conducted by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) last June, hopes were raised that the ban on open pit mining would finally be lifted. In response to a question in the open forum, MGB Director Wilfredo Moncano stated that the repealing clause of the draft Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of Executive Order No. 130 (EO 130) would refer to Department Administrative Order 2017-10 (DAO 2017-10) on the ban on open pit mining. Thus, while EO 130 itself does not explicitly refer to the lifting of the ban on open pit mining, the intent was to lift it since, in the proposed IRR, Section 11 referred to the repeal of the said DAO.
Administrative Order No. 2021-25, or the IRR of EO 130, which was published on 08 August 2021, and which will take effect 15 days therefrom and registration with the Office of the National Administrative Register, did not repeal DAO 2017-10 or mention open pit mining at all, dashing any expectation that the ban will be lifted during this administration, notwithstanding the professed objectives of, among others: promoting direct investment for significant economic benefits of the country; ensuring adequate raw materials to support the various government projects, such as the Build, Build, Build Program and the mineral and allied industries; and promoting the development and increasing of employment opportunities in remote rural areas where there are mining activities in support to the Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa Program the government. All of these laudable objectives would be met if only the long-stalled priority open pit mining projects were allowed to proceed to operate.
On the positive side, with respect to the grant of new mineral agreements, upon effectivity of the IRR, all qualified applicants for a Mineral Agreement may now file their applications pursuant to Department Administrative Order No. 2010-21 and Republic Act No. 11032 (the Anti-Red Tape Act).
Further, the permittee of an existing Exploration Permit with an approved Declaration of Mining Project Feasibility (DMPF) may apply for a Mineral Agreement and submit to the MGB Regional Office concerned within 90 days the mandatory requirements outlined in the IRR. If complete, the MGB Central Office, 15 days from receipt of the Mineral Agreement application, shall review and shall endorse the same, to the DENR Secretary, for approval and issuance of the Mineral Agreement.
It must be noted that new Mineral Agreements shall include a stipulation that they shall adhere to the existing revenue sharing scheme and to any future legislation pertaining to revenue sharing, taxes, fees, royalties, and charges.
Previously, I also touched on how artifical intelligence (AI), which is defined as the ability of a digital computer or computer-controlled robot to perform tasks commonly associated with intelligent beings, such as learning from past experience, is creeping into many aspects of how we do our work. Repetitive tasks, or those which may be done more efficiently are seen as better done by AI. The mining industry, where efficiency and productivity are paramount, has made profitable use of AI throughout the world.
In Bagdad, Arizona, for example, data scientists, metallurgists, and engineers from Freeport-McMoRan created a custom AI model at a copper-ore concentrating mill in 2018 which was loaded with three years’ worth of operating data. It was programmed to look for operational tweaks to boost output. Thirteen monitors were placed in the control room to show readings from hundreds of performance sensors located around the mill. Over time, the collected data were used to maximize copper production at a reasonable cost, with little new capital investment. The team created, tested, and refined algorithms that would look into the data and recommend settings to maximize the copper output. Their prediction model, called “TROI”, became so agile, that it was capable of issuing recommendations every 12 hours.
Though not initially reliable, “TROI” was continuously improved by the team such that its recommendations became more plausible, to the point that 80% of its recommendations were accepted by the company’s metallurgists. The mill’s production substantially increased in just four quarters with its throughput exceeding 85,000 tons of ore per day, while its copper-recovery rate rose by 10% and its operations became more stable.
In Canada, the government utilizes AI to promote clean, sustainable growth of its mining sector competitiveness by reducing costs and increasing productivity through automation. It recognizes that innovation may lead to increased efficiency and productivity, reduced costs, and improved environmental performance. The Canadian government is now using machine learning to develop better models for the prediction of rock type and economical mineral deposit locations for extraction purposes without engaging in time and resource-intensive approaches. It also uses AI to map Canada’s water and infrastructure, and to improve its ability to create geospatial data layers which can be used for emergency management, flood mapping, and change detection.
In the Philippines, despite rapid technological developments, there are currently no government issuances governing the use of AI-related technologies in the mining industry. Nevertheless, the DENR appears to recognize the impact that AI can make in preserving and protecting natural resources as it recently partnered with SMART and PLDT to protect peatlands in the Philippines using AI solutions.
Outside the mining industry, other government agencies, notably the Department of Trade and Industry considers AI as a “nation defining capability” as it created an AI Roadmap to provide an actionable guide on how to “harness AI’s potential to uplift Filipinos, our local industries, and our economy.” It is geared towards preparing the nation to maximize the benefits of employing AI technologies. The Philippines is supposedly among the first 50 countries in the world to have a national strategy and policy on AI. Such a policy is touted to increase the Philippines’ gross domestic product by 12% by 2030 as the roadmap can establish the Philippines as an “AI Center for Excellence in the region” and be a “hub for data processing” which can provide high-value data analytics and AI services to the world.
The trouble with such projections and roadmaps is that, unless they are acted upon, and until we stop shooting ourselves in the foot, they remain aspirational. We have roadmaps for practically every industry, yet we have spent decades going around in circles instead. Back in 2004, a Mineral Action Plan for the revitalization of the mining industry had already been put in place to implement Executive Order 270 (The National Policy Agenda on Revitalizing Mining in the Philippines). The DENR was to be the lead agency in crafting and implementing a strategic plan, in consultation with the other concerned agencies, such as, but not limited to, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the Department of Finance, the National Economic Development Authority, the National Anti-Poverty Commission, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, the mining industry and civil society.
Despite the fantastic roadmap laid out, and three administrations later, we all sadly know what followed next: the saga of Executive Order 49 and all the other monkey wrenches thrown in, which prevented the approval of new mining agreements and projects from proceeding for many years. While this may be oversimplifying all the myriad challenges the mining industry has faced, instead of trying to find new solutions to age-old problems, it may be worth taking a second look at prescriptions that may have been there all along. Unfortunately, rare is the administration that considers and implements the plans and strategies of the previous ones, no matter how well thought out, for the simple reason that it is ‘contra-partido’ or someone else’s idea, which is why our country has not fared as well as others in the execution of long-term strategic plans.
The issuance of Administrative Order No. 2021-25 is undoubtedly a welcome development, but the road (though paved with good intentions) is still littered with obstacles, many of our own making. As we soldier on, I cannot help but wonder whether it is AI that can help humans truly learn from past experiences by warning us against committing the same mistakes and allowing us to make better decisions, or humans should finally just face up to the consequences of our folly.
Philippine Resources - September 24, 2021
DOTr, Pasay City sign deal for monorail, flyover extension
Residents and those working in Pasay City will soon enjoy easier public transportation after the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and the city government signed a deal for the construction of a monorail and extension of the Epifanio Delos Santos Avenue (Edsa)-Tramo flyover. In a live broadcast on Facebook on Wednesday, DOTr Secretary Arthur Tugade and Pasay City Mayor Emi Calixto-Rubiano signed the memorandum of agreement (MOA) for the proposed Integrated Pasay Monorail and Edsa-Tramo flyover extension project. Tugade said the project will be interoperable with the Light Rail Transit Line 1 (LRT-1), Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3), the Edsa Busway, and the Edsa Greenways. “[Ito ay] makapagbibigay ng mas mabilis at episyenteng biyahe sa mga pasahero. Magiging mas madali na rin ang access patungong central business district (CBD) ng Pasay (This will provide fast and efficient travel to passengers. Access to Pasay CBD will also be easier),” Tugade said. Aside from its benefits to commuters, he said the project will also create jobs. “Ang paulit-ulit kong sinasabi na karugtong ng mga proyekto para sa kaunlaran ay trabaho para sa Pilipino (What I have always been saying is that development projects go hand-in-hand with jobs for Filipinos),” Tugade said. He said the project is a partnership between the DOTr, Pasay City government, and SM Prime Holdings. “Makakaasa 'ho kayong magpapatuloy ang DOTr sa pagsusulong ng mga proyekto para sa ikauunlad ng pampublikong transportasyon sa bansa (You can be rest assured that the DOTr will continue to promote projects for the development of public transportation in the country),” Tugade said. The MOA signing was witnessed by Pasay City Vice Mayor Noel del Rosario, DOTr Undersecretary for Finance Giovanni Lopez, Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Reinier Paul Yebra, Undersecretary for Railways Timothy John Batan, SM Prime Holdings President Jeffrey Lim, and other representatives from the Pasay City government and the private sector. On Sept. 7, the Pasay City government and the SM Prime Holdings made a joint presentation on the project to the DOTr. By Raymond Carl Dela Cruz Article courtesy of the Philippine News Agency
Philippine Resources - September 24, 2021
DOTr eyes GenSan airport as alternate int'l gateway
Photo credit: Department of Transportation The Department of Transportation (DOTr) is pushing for the inclusion of the newly rehabilitated and expanded airport here as among the alternate gateways for returning Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and international travelers. DOTr Secretary Arthur Tugade proposed the move on Thursday as he personally led the formal unveiling and inauguration of the city airport’s new passenger terminal building and other completed facilities. He said the city’s international standard airport can accommodate airline passengers coming in from as far as the Middle East. Tugade said it can be realized once the proposed increase in the daily cap for returning OFWs, currently at 2,000 for the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), is approved. Once the cap is expanded, he said NAIA might “choke” with the influx of airline passengers from various countries. “If we will increase the cap, we need to expand our gateways and not limit them to Clark, Cebu, and NAIA. We can include GenSan among the gateways for travelers from Doha who are going to Manila,” he said in a press conference. He said they will propose such strategy with the airlines serving the international routes, including the Philippine Airlines, and seek the approval of the city government. The other possible alternate gateways could be the Laoag International Airport in Ilocos Norte and the Bohol-Panglao International Airport, Tugade said. The rehabilitated and expanded General Santos Airport passenger terminal building, which was completed early this month, is part of the PHP959-million upgrade implemented by the national government. The other completed components are the procurement and installation of navigational aids and the construction of the new Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) administration building at the airport. Under the project, Tugade said the passenger terminal area has tripled in size from 4,000 to 12,000 square meters. “This will allow the airport to accommodate more passengers and provide them comfortable and convenient travel,” he said in his speech. A DOTr report said the larger passenger terminal building can now accommodate around 2 million passengers annually, a significant jump from the previous 800,000 per year. Tugade said the improvement at the city airport will continue next year with the upgrading of its air control tower, which he considered as “too low.” He said they will build a “higher and modernized” tower in 2022 to make it “more world-class” and can easily adjust to the needs of the airport. The official said the upgrading of the airport, which started in 2018, is among the agency and the national government’s top priorities in Mindanao. He said the initiative is part of the government’s efforts to bring more progress and economic opportunities in Mindanao, which “suffered from long years of neglect in terms of development.” Tugade said they endeavored to implement these projects despite the challenges posed by the continuing coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic to pursue their goal of giving a “comfortable and convenient life” to Filipinos. “After the pandemic, we want all these developments in place and ready to benefit the people,” he said. In a video message, President Rodrigo Duterte commended the DOTr, the local government, and concerned stakeholders for completing the projects at the city airport amid the Covid-19 pandemic. He said the city has “gone a long way” in terms of the development of its air connectivity and airport facilities. “The rehabilitation and expansion of the airport passenger terminal building, among others, will truly boost General Santos City’s role as an agro-industrial and eco-tourism hub,” the President said. City Mayor Ronnel Rivera lauded the national government for helping the city realize its dream of having an international-standard airport. Aside from the expanded passenger terminal building, the airport is now capable of accommodating bigger aircraft like Boeing 737 and 747, as well as Airbus A330, A340, and A350. “(What) we are seeing now is a result of multisectoral commitment and dedication in various stages of the airport development, which includes coordination of several initiatives, preparation of the airport master plan, operations, and marketing,” he said. The mayor said the local government will continue to engage with prospective investors and airlines for the opening of more flights to and from the airport and the development of adjacent areas. He cited the proposed establishment of an aerotropolis or growth area centered on the city airport and its surrounding areas. “We are opening a wide array of opportunities, not only on the improvement of our infrastructure facilities but also in terms of investments that will generate more economic opportunities for the city and the entire region (Soccsksargen),” he said. Aside from the inauguration of the airport projects, Tugade also led the unveiling of completed initiatives at the Makar port here. The DOTr said it includes the construction of the Port Operations Building and other vital facilities, which includes a parking area, covered court, port manager’s quarter or Day Care Center, and drainage system. “The improved port of Makar will now offer safer, comfortable, and a more convenient port experience to passengers, while ensuring a faster turnaround for vessels, cargo trucks, and other ancillary service providers,” it said. Article courtesy of the Philippine News Agency
Philippine Resources - September 22, 2021
Cebu-Cordova Link Expressway 83% Complete
Photo credit: Cebu-Cordova Link Expressway As of August 31, 2021, the construction progress of the Cebu-Cordova Link Expressway (CCLEX) project was at 83.84 percent. The P30-billion toll bridge, which will be substantially completed by the end of 2021, will use a full electronic toll system when it opens to motorists in the first quarter of 2022 to enable faster traffic flow and seamless travel. The project recently marked a milestone with the completion of the installation of all 56 stay cables that hold the main bridge deck. On September 11, the Cebu Cordova Link Expressway Corporation (CCLEC), through its contractor, installed the last and longest stay cable, which is 219 meters long. The gap on the main bridge, on the other hand, is now down to only two meters before span closure and preparations are underway for the lowering of the form travelers. These form travelers, which weigh 500 tons in each tower, were used to construct the main bridge’s pier table and deck. Also, all 434 NU (Nebraska University) girders for the entire project have already been installed. With this, the mobile launching gantry used to install the girders have been demobilized. At the Cebu South Coastal Road (CSCR) on ramp and off ramp sections of CCLEX, construction of its substructures is complete. Ongoing works are now on the installation of precast planks and the concreting of deck slab. Also finished is the 200-meter pedestrian footbridge beside the CSCR with all six prefabricated steel walkways already installed. The footbridge will start near the U-turn slot of the South Road Properties’ welcome tower and will connect to the on-ramp sidewalk of CCLEX. At the Cebu viaduct, the construction of deck slab is ongoing. The Cordova viaduct, on the other hand, is now structurally complete with its substructure already done. Installation of handrails are underway. At the causeway, embankment works continue to progress with the placing of 20 vent pipes, which equalize the flow of seawater along the Cordova Channel, is finished. Also structurally complete are the four low-level bridges along the causeway, which will provide fishermen continued access to their fishing grounds. Aside from these, works are ongoing for the toll plaza and the CCLEX Operations and Maintenance Center. CCLEX, highlighted by its iconic crosses on top of the twin pylons of the cable-stayed main bridge over the Mactan Channel, is Metro Pacific Tollways Corporation’s (MPTC) first toll road project outside Luzon. CCLEX, which will be the third link to Mactan Island from Cordova Municipality to mainland Cebu through Cebu City’s South Road Properties, has a design speed of 80 kilometers per hour (kph) and a navigational clearance or height of 51 meters to allow large vessels to pass underneath the bridge. Not only is CCLEX seen to reduce traffic and make traveling more convenient but also spur trade activities and open greater economic opportunities for Cebu and the rest of the Visayas region. CCLEX is a project of Cebu Cordova Link Expressway Corporation (CCLEC), in partnership with the local government units of Cebu City and Municipality of Cordova. CCLEC is a wholly owned subsidiary of MPTC, the toll road arm of Metro Pacific Investments Corporation (MPIC), a publicly listed infrastructure holding company and a member of the MVP Group of Companies. MPTC is the largest toll road concessionaire and operator in the Philippines, which expansion goals include establishing toll operations in the Visayas, other parts of the Philippines, and in neighboring countries notably Vietnam, and Indonesia. Article courtesy of Cebu-Cordova Link Expressway