A golden age in Philippine mining is coming
BULL MARKET, BULL SHEET By Wilson Lee Flores
Monday, February 25, 2008
Good news: the world’s biggest mining and metals leaders are coming to invest here! They’re coming not only to extract minerals for export, they’re also investing in processing plants to convert our mineral resources into high-value export products.
Top private firms like PS Bank, with their P10 million raffle prizes for depositors from February to July; and SM malls, with their P50 million raffle prizes for 50 winners from February to December, are giving us consumers huge bonanzas. However, unknown to most people, God has blessed the Philippines with the most stupendous good fortune — Asia’s No. 1 biggest nickel deposits and the world’s No. 5 richest gold deposits, plus many more minerals.
Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Joselito “Lito” Atienza said estimates put potential Philippine mineral wealth at over US$3 trillion in gold, copper, nickel and other resources. Only less than two percent of the estimated nine million hectares of the Philippines’ mineral-rich lands have been explored and covered with mining permits.
An unprecedented golden age in Philippine mining is coming and can uplift the lives of millions of impoverished rural masses as well as our whole economy, if we can ensure that the evils of corruption can be moderated, if not totally stopped.
However, if the prevailing unbridled corruption and culture of impunity continue ZTE NBN-style, then the coming Philippine mining boom might only result in Africa-style social inequities benefiting the entrenched political elite and the well-connected few vis-à-vis continued massive poverty and harrowing long-term tragedies.
One of the bright spots in the Philippine economy is the revival of mining under President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo due in no small measure to GMA’s single-minded vigorous push for the development of this sector. However, I believe the ongoing healthy democratic debate on the ZTE NBN controversy should hopefully prevent future cronyism, anomalous contracts, secret deals and other big-scale corruption in mining.
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According to Atienza, the world’s fifth wealthiest billionaire, London-based Indian industrialist Lakshmi Mittal — with a personal net worth of US$51 billion (almost double the total Philippine national budget for 2008) — is soon coming to the Philippines to explore investments in mining and a smelting plant. His original plan to visit the Philippines in mid-January was rescheduled. As boss of ArcelorMittal, he is the world’s largest steel producer, with operations in Europe, Latin America, North America and Asia.
There are only four people richer than Mittal today: Microsoft founder Bill Gates, legendary stock investor and business whiz Warren Buffet, Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim and the Swedish founder of home furniture retail chain Ikea, Ingvar Kam.
Atienza added that BHP Billiton, the world’s largest diversified mining company with 39,000 employees in 25 countries and US$121.6 billion in market capitalization, is now here in the Philippines for exploration. Atienza said, “They have decided to remain here and to pursue their business interests in the Philippines. Obviously they know the vast potential of Philippine mining.”
Just a couple of weeks ago, Melbourne-headquartered BHP Billiton made global headlines with its record all-share offer worth US$147.4 billion to take over the world’s third largest mining firm, the London-headquartered Rio Tinto Plc, with the latter rejecting this sweetened formal offer. Rio Tinto last year also rejected another BHP Billiton offer.
Atienza said the Emaar Group of Dubai is also coming to invest in Philippine mining; so are the biggest firms in new superpower China. Atienza said, “Always twice or thrice a week, I meet with foreign and local investors, and all of them are interested in riding the bandwagon of the Philippine mining industry boom.”
Let us welcome more world-class foreign investors like Mittal and BHP Billiton into the Philippines and deport our many lying political scalawags to Timbuktu and Iraq!
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Atienza said the total mining investments in 2007 totaled US$4 billion when he assumed office at the DENR, but this will surge with new mining investments, topping $10 billion in 2008-2009. He said, “We will have a banner year in 2008 and also 2009.” Secretary Atienza quotes President GMA, who once said that what oil is to the Middle East, mineral wealth will be to the Philippines.
The last time the Philippines experienced a mining boom was during the postwar 1950s to 1960s, and also that golden era in the first half of the 20th century under American colonial rule. This was when the Philippines had probably Asia’s second wealthiest economy due mainly to American good governance, enlightened free-enterprise policies, the Americans’ creating Asia’s best public school system in the Philippines, and Philippine commodity exports’ duty-free access to the vast US market.
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In response to our critical column last week, we wish to print the explanation of Philippine Chamber of Commerce & Industry (PCCI) chairman Ambassador Donald Dee, that he is not against the ongoing Senate investigations into the ZTE NBN corruption allegations. Dee said he wants the truth out, too. He said our last column describing the PCCI as sounding like the Philippine Canine Club, Inc. due to the overly partisan pro-government public statements of some of their leaders, was an unfair attack.
I believe Dee is a good person. In fact, I should call him uncle, because we have the same Chinese surname (Lee, Dy and Dee are one and the same character in Chinese). His late dad, garments industrialist Rufino Dee Un Hong, and my 1790s paternal ancestors came from the same ancestral Chio-Chun Village in Fujian province. However, I believe Dee and stockbroker Vivian Yuchengco could defend economic stability without sounding like lapdogs similar to Joker Arroyo, Lito Lapid or Secretary Raul Gonzalez.
We also mentioned DENR Secretary Atienza in our last column about blind political loyalty, and Atienza explained that his name was only dragged into this ZTE NBN controversy because whistleblower Jun Lozada was then head of a state agency directly under the DENR. Atienza said Lozada was an appointee of former DENR Secretary Mike Defensor, that Defensor told him he was smart and therefore there was no need to replace him. Former Manila Mayor Atienza wants to clarify that he isn’t involved in ZTE NBN, and that he has 36 years of exemplary public service behind him.
I believe Atienza and Dee shouldn’t risk tarnishing their names by defending the indefensible alleged mega-corruption of ZTE NBN-like deals. Excessive corruption is not only pure evil, it not only destroys the morale and moral values of our people, it is also subversive, insidious economic sabotage!
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