By Vincent Mariel P. Galang, Reporter

SR Languyan Mining Corp., a top exporter of high-grade nickel ore, is eyeing a new site in the Bicol Region, as its Tawi-Tawi mine site nears depletion of ore deposits.

Bago mahinto ’yung operations namin nagpa-Plan B na kami. Humanap na kami ng alternative na area para ’yung tao namin, dahan-dahan naming ililipat [Before our operations stop, we already have a Plan B. We already looked for an alternative area so that we can gradually transfer our employees],” Hamba Bara Loong, port manager of SR Languyan, told BusinessWorld in a phone interview earlier this week.

Mr. Loong said the company is currently conducting exploration activities at a site in the Bicol Region. He did not disclose the exact location, but said the site spans 5,000 hectares and has an estimated mine life of 50 years.

As for the Tawi-Tawi site, Mr. Loong said its ore deposits are likely to be depleted by the end of the year.

May depletion ang area, so malapit nang mag-deplete… Mga end of this year maybe. Mga 10% na lang (deposits), so most probably end of this year [There is already depletion in the area, it is nearing depletion… Maybe by end of this year. There are only 10% deposits remaining, so most probably end of this year],” he said.

Reuters earlier reported that the closure of SR Languyan will slash the Philippines’ monthly exports of nickel ore to China by 300,000 to 400,000 tons, quoting estimates by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB). Jaynul Ali Sambaranu, head of the mines and geosciences services of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), said that they will conduct a mine audit on all active mining companies, including SR Languyan, in Tawi-Tawi next week to assess the level of ore deposits. He noted that SR Languyan is exporting a monthly average of 500,000 tons to China, the world’s top metals consumer.

Once SR Languyan’s operations end, Mr. Sambaranu said BARMM will feel the biggest impact on cash remittances.

Unang-una cash remittances ng SR Languyan sa BARMM, syempre ’yung area iiwanan din. Pero ang pinaka malaki talaga sa cash remittances (First, it’s the cash remittances of SR Languyan to BARMM, and also the area that they will leave. But the biggest impact is really on cash remittances,” he said. SR Languyan is one of the top nickel ore producers in the country, and China’s second-biggest supplier of nickel ore which are used in stainless steel and battery production.

The company was given a mining permit in 2010 which covers 3,483 hectares of land in Languyan, Tawi-Tawi.

SR Languyan’s impending shutdown comes amid a nickel ore shortage and Indonesia’s possible ban on nickel ore exports.

Indonesia, the world’s top nickel ore supplier, is crafting mineral ore export rules, which might include a ban on exports of unprocessed mineral ores to be implemented from 2022.