THE VALUE of the metallic mining industry’s output in 2020 rose 1.13% to P132.21 billion, driven by improved nickel volumes, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) said.

In a report Tuesday, the MGB said nickel ore and its by-products accounted for 51.8% or P68.48 billion of the total, followed by gold at 36% or P47.60 billion, and copper 11.25% or P14.88 billion, with silver, chromite, and iron combining for P1.26 billion.

The volume of direct-shipping nickel ore, the form in which the metal is exported for processing overseas, rose 3.3% year on year to 333,962 metric tons (MT), and was worth P38.39 billion.

“Of the 30 nickel mines, the key producers were Taganito Mining Corp. (TMC) with 67,324 MT, followed by Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corp. (RTNMC) with 46,571 MT. In third was Platinum Group Metals Corp. with 32,848 MT,” the MGB said.

The MGB said 11 mining projects reported zero output, including eight on Dinagat Island, and one each in Isabela, Zambales, and Davao Oriental. These mines were either in care and maintenance status or subject to suspension orders by the government.

The MGB said nickel benefited from the rise in metal prices due to supply disruptions and strong demand from the stainless steel industry in China. It also flagged an overall reduction in supply due to Indonesia’s nickel ore export ban.

“Tight supply coupled with strong demand will naturally push prices to better levels. Next to Indonesia, the Philippines is the largest supplier of nickel ore to China,” the MGB said.

“China was still the country’s top export market for its nickel ore followed by Japan in 2020,” it added.

In 2020, output of mixed nickel-cobalt sulfide fell to 49,647 MT, valued at P29.76 billion. A year earlier, the corresponding totals were 51,144 MT, worth P31.70 billion.

Taganito HPAL Nickel Corp. based in Surigao del Norte, produced 62% or 30,587 MT, followed by Coral Bay Nickel Corp. in Palawan with 38% or 19,060 MT.

Meanwhile, the MGB said output of gold, silver, and copper dropped in 2020 in the absence of the output of the suspended Didipio Gold-Copper Project of OceanaGold Philippines, Inc. in Nueva Vizcaya.

In 2020, gold output dropped 15.6% to 17,424 kilograms (kg). By value, however, the precious metal rose 0.5% to P47.60 billion.

MGB said Philippine Gold Processing Refining Corp. in Masbate produced 6,045 kg valued at P15.33 billion.

Silver output fell 23.2% to 24,024 kg in 2020, while value declined 6.9% to P770.50 million.

The top silver producer was Apex Mining Corp., with 11,631 kg, worth P0.38 billion.

The MGB said copper output in 2020 fell 15.4% to 60,856 MT valued at P14.88 billion.

Cebu-based Carmen Copper Corp. produced 48,576 MT valued at P11.19 billion, followed by Philex Mining Corp. with 11,964 MT worth P3.65 billion, and Lepanto Consolidated Mining Corp. 316 MT valued at P0.42 billion.

According to the MGB, gold and silver prices in 2020 were higher than their pre-pandemic levels. It said the average gold price in 2020 was $1,770.21 per troy ounce, up 27.3%. Silver prices rose 26.6% to $20.45 per troy ounce.

“Experts said that the upward trend for precious metals gold and silver was attributed to depreciation in the US dollar and lower interest rates,” MGB said.

The MGB said the outlook for the minerals industry in 2021 remains uncertain due to the effects of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, which has disrupted mining operations.

“The companies have no recourse but to reduce total man-hours and manpower or worse, impose lockdowns to comply with the health protocols set by local and national governments,” the MGB said.

The MGB said another factor is the continued non-production of some mining operations due to environment-related suspensions, unfavorable weather, or care and maintenance.

In 2020, MGB estimated the number of productive operations at 18 nickel mines, eight gold with silver as a by-product, three copper with gold and silver as by-products; two nickel processing plants; two gold processing plants; one iron mine; one chromite mine; and other small-scale chromite mining operations.

“We are hoping that as the year progresses new mining projects will enter production and those mining operations that recorded zero production in 2020 will resume operations to inject a much-needed lift to the minerals sector,” MGB said. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave