Nickel Initiative 2019 Highlights
By Marcelle P. Villegas
18-19 March 2019 - Philippine Nickel Industry Association (PNIA) organised and launched The Nickel Initiative 2019 Conference at Shangri-la at the Fort in Taguig City. The event's objective is to provide a venue to discuss issues and potential opportunities or collaborations for the various industries that are involved in the nickel supply chain. The event also featured companies involved in the exploration, extraction and processing of nickel. According to PNIA, The Nickel Initiative 2019 Conference aims to open doors for improved networking and collaboration among stakeholders and industry players in the Philippines and abroad.
Price, policy constraints and challenges were among the major issues discussed during the conference. The establishment of a roadmap for the industry was a goal mentioned by PNIA as they aim to leverage on the Philippine's position as the second biggest producer of the key input in stainless steel, mobile phones, transportation and electric vehicle batteries. This roadmap is intended to provide a foundation that would accelerate growth in the local nickel industry and to further contribute to the country's economic expansion. The roadmap will also address the industry's needed infrastructure, incentives, power, as well as peace and security.  The PNIA stated that they are hoping to finalize the nickel industry roadmap within a year. 
The two-day event had attendees from local and global nickel stakeholders from the private and public sectors.
Mr Clarence J. Pimentel, Jr., Conference Chair of The Nickel Initiative 2019, gave the Welcome Remarks. This was followed by Atty. Dante R. Bravo's message and Q&A portion with ANC's News Anchor, Mr Quintin Pastrana. Mr Pastrana is the President of WEnergy Global Pte Ltd., a graduate of University of Oxford, University of Cambridge and Georgetown University.
The keynote speaker for Day 2 was the former Philippine President and currently the House Speaker, Honourable Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. From her speech, she mentioned her support for the industry and its endeavours. The House Speaker is hopeful that Congress will be able to pass the new fiscal regime measure for the mining sector before the end of 17th session of Congress in June.  This refers to the House Bill No. 8400 which she co-authored.
For large-scale metallic and non-metallic mining operations outside of the mineral reservations, they will be required to pay the government a margin-based royalty on income from mining operation. It was noted that the rate is raised from 1.5% royalty to 5% royalty. This is from a 10% to a 70% margin.  On top of this, a royalty tax equivalent to 3% of the gross output of minerals or mineral products extracted or produced by the mining operation will also be imposed on large-scale metallic and non-metallic operations if this is located within mining reservation areas and this is exclusive of all other taxes. This means that they still have to pay corporate income tax.
For small-scale mining, the House Speaker mentioned that the mining contractors within or outside mineral reservations will pay to the government a royalty equivalent to one-tenth of one percent of gross output. 
She noted that the measure would generate around PHP22 billion for the government from the current PHP19 billion (or PHP18.71 billion) as well as an additional PHP3 billion from the royalties collection. With regards to mining royalty, she stated that the government will earn PHP2.57 billion instead of the current PHP1.13 billion. 
Furthermore, the House Speaker said that HB 8400 was adopted by the Senate committee level with an objective to promote fairness by providing fiscal regime that is applicable to all existing and prospective large metallic and non-metallic, and small-scale mines. It shall be applied to all mines regardless of whether the mine is located outside or inside of mineral reservation. This measure would also "enhance the equitable share of the government in the utilization of natural resources without compromising the mining sector's need for reasonable return on its investment." 
Mr Dante Bravo, President of PNIA, said that they welcome the measure. He hopes that the approval of the House Bill would eventually push the lifting of the moratorium on new mining permits.
The House Speaker also noted that the local mining industry flourished under the present administration than it did during her regime despite the current President's stand on mining. "I have said that even under my successor, who was very strict about mining, the sector grew even more than it did in my time," she said. "That's what we want to do now. Even in today's policy and regulatory environment, we want to help the sector grow and contribute to national development." However, she emphasised that there should be a solid framework that will approximate the thinking of President Rodrigo Duterte. 
In relation to President Duterte's message during his 2018 SONA, the House Speaker pointed out that raw materials from mining operations in the Philippines should be processed here. She said, "In line with the President's other statements regarding raw materials...your projects would ideally include processing facilities if not today, at least in the realistic future.”
The House Speaker also proposed that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) should also transform into a promoter of responsible mining aside from being a regulator.
From her keynote speech, she emphasised as well the importance of educating the public on the aspect of land rehabilitation since there are several remarkable examples such as Berong Nickel, Coral Bay Nickel, and Rio Tuba in Palawan; Agatha Mining and SR Metals in Agusan del Norte, Taganito Mining in Surigao del Norte, Zambales Diversified Metals in Candelaria, Zambales.
Hon. Arroyo also mentioned the old mined pit of Semirara which is now a blue lagoon after the company's marine rehabilitation efforts in the island. This environmental rehabilitation brought international attention and the company was awarded in 2015 as first runner-up in the Corporate Social Responsibility category of the Asean Energy Awards in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
After the speech of Hon. Arroyo, Undersecretary Rafaelita M. Aldaba of the Department of Trade and Industry gave a presentation about "Securing the Future of the Philippine Industries".
On the second part of the morning session, the topic was "Discovering Nickel and Tomorrow's Industries". The presenters were Mr Paul White (Secretary General of International Nickel Study Group), Mr Edmund A. Araga (President of Electric Vehicle Association of the Phils.) and Mr Lawrence Liu (Tsingshan Holding Group Co., Ltd.).
The afternoon session's topic was "The Next Generation of Innovators and R&D Champions" where a Q&A panel was moderated by TV host Mr RJ Ledesma. The panelists were Mr Earl Forlales (CEO and Founder of CUBO Modular) and Dr. Rogel Mari Sese (President of Regulus Space Tech Inc.). Mr Forlales presented an innovative and low-cost housing solution for the urban poor that uses bamboo as building material. It has a practical home design that is easy to assemble but durable for years. Dr. Sese talked about outer space mining and its legal implications on a global scale. He passed around to the audience a sample of a meteorite that landed in Russia which he said is composed mainly of nickel.
The segment's moderator, Mr Ledesma has been popular in Philippine television since the late 1980s for appearances in various commercials and TV shows, representing Generation X with wit, humour and flair. He is a writer, editor and entrepreneur, co-founder of the successful Mercato Centrale food market, and the Honourary Vice Consul of Monaco to the Philippines. He is the first Asian to deliver the graduation speech at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he received a degree in Masters of Science in Real Estate Development.
Other presenters for the afternoon session were Mr Cyrille Jouin (Glencore International AG), Mr Ian Hiscock (CRU Consulting Group) and Mr Weixun Huang (Ningbo Lygend Mining Co., Ltd.).
Dr. Bernardo M. Villegas gave an insightful and informative closing keynote presentation titled “Nickel Mining Can Be Sustainable”. Dr. Villegas is an economist and professor at the University of Asia and the Pacific. He is also a book author and a leading expert in economics. Dr. Villegas is one of the best economists of the Philippines due to his unparalleled expertise and wisdom. From his speech, he emphasised the important role of the Philippine government in the survival and success of the local mining industry.
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At the end of the day, with all the talks and sharing of ideas, studies and opinions, the success or failure of the Philippine nickel industry in solving its impending problems and challenges is dependent on how well the key players are able to differentiate between the best solutions from false limiting beliefs. After the conference, here are some thoughts, reactions and expert analyses from some of the delegates who attended the Nickel Initiative Conference 2019:
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“I am convinced that nickel demand will continue to rise in the future. Profit can be made if we are properly positioned. Trading of nickel in the Philippines is a sustainable project or business. The initiative was good as the problems unique to the industry were identified and discussed and a possible solution was talked about. The event was also a fresh ground for meeting new contacts and renewal or updating with former acquaintances.” (Ms Audi Fabricante, Business Manager at Epitomo Holding Resources Pte Ltd. and Principal at Fahaodi Mining Consultancy)
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"The Nickel Initiative conference was very informative. Current regional and world trends were covered by industry experts from various countries. The speakers were able to cover topics from nickel extraction to stainless steel usage and even emphasised the demand for raw materials for electric vehicles. Next time, I hope, in the next conference, there will be discussions on worldwide trends or sharing of best practices that companies adopt to minimize environmental and social impact of the mineral extraction and processing." (Ms Maan Baribar, Community and Public Relations Senior Manager of Sumitomo Metal Mining Philippine Holdings Corporation)
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“During the conference, I heard lots of well-intentioned speeches but the challenge is for industry leaders and authorities to create a clear roadmap with practical steps to achieve quickly a shared vision. I hope that this will emerge soon because we need it. It seems that there was no Philippine company mentioned who is willing to put up a nickel processing plant locally to add value to the large laterite nickel resources of this country. Perhaps most companies prefer direct shipping of ore to overseas markets at prices of less than 10% of the contained nickel content.
“Indonesia banned the shipment of laterite nickel ores in 2014 and now has over 25 companies operating or building processing plants, with the production of over 750,000 tpy nickel metal in product by 2023. All the Chinese producers who attended the Nickel Initiative stated they will NOT invest in the Philippines as they already have investments in Indonesia. Interestingly, Indonesian companies cannot export laterite ores unless they are building a processing plant. The same policy should be immediately implemented in the Philippines.
“Nickel Asia/Sumitomo at their Coral Bay and Tanganito has been the only company in Asia processing local laterite nickel ores to produce raw materials for batteries. This company has been the sole producer for the last 15 years but is now at risk of being overtaken by the Indonesian companies as they start work on three planned HPAL plants. From a position of absolute advantage, the Philippines will lose its position in the battery sector. It has already lost the race in producing ferro-nickel or nickel pig iron and will never be able to compete with the Chinese companies in Indonesia.
“Banning the immediate export of laterite nickel ores is the only way to force companies to invest for the future and for the benefit of the Filipino people. Without an immediate ban on exports, the fourth largest resource of laterite nickel and cobalt in the World will become irrelevant as we watch our Asian neighbors grow to lead the world in battery materials production and stainless steel production from laterite ores,” (Mr George Bujtor, 12th April 2019)
Mr Bujtor is a prominent mining executive from Australia with 23 years of experience in various roles such as General Manager and Managing Director in Rio Tinto, Australia. He is an expert in the technical, financial and commercial aspects of mining operations. In the Philippines, he was the CEO of Toledo Mining Corporation in 2005 where he developed in record time, commercialized and operated the Berong Nickel Mine in Palawan. He was also the CEO of Carmen Copper Corporation in 2009 (under Atlas Consolidated Mining and Development Corporation), the largest porphyry gold-copper producer in the Philippines. He has a degree with honours in BASc Geology, Mining and Metallurgy; Master's Degree in Mineral Economics; Master's Degree in Mining Engineering and M.B.A. Mr Bujtor is currently the CEO of Electric Metals Limited.
 Rodriguez, Bruce (19 March 2019). "Policy and global metal price constraints tackled at Nickel Initiative 2019" on ANC 24/7. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/ANCalerts/videos/607666546327913/
 Retrieved from https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1065046
 Ison, Lilybeth (19 March 2019). "Arroyo optimistic about bill on new fiscal regime for mining". Retrieved from https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1065024