SENATOR Richard Gordon has expressed suspicion of the huge amount of soil being excavated in Zambales and allegedly being “smuggled” by mining companies to China amid a report that nickel ore is currently at low trajectory.
Gordon said a proverbial “Pandora’s Box” was opened during the first hearing conducted by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on the mining operations in Zambales and the alleged excavation and smuggling of soil and rocks to China to be used as landfill in some islets and shoals in the disputed West Philippine Sea.
Gordon, chairman of the powerful committee, said the issue was becoming bigger than it appeared to be as other national security concerns and other environmental issues started to come out.
“That much land that came out, that much earth that came out. Could it be that they know something that we do not? Or at least some of us do not? Or some of us know but most of us do not? Meaning to say they are taking out apparently low-grade nickel but, in effect, there's something more to it than low-grade nickel or fill for an island?” Gordon asked.
“So we are coming to the chase, in so far as to the possibility of getting the land to fill up 3,500 hectares for an airfield. That is not the whole story.
“I think this is becoming to be bigger than we thought it was. And I thank the governor for opening this situation to us. Though I thought his statement was ludicrous, I knew that he was saying something important,” he said.
“That’s my point. That the sand or earth they're getting is not only nickel but they know something that most of us don't know about that is of higher value. We may be selling ourselves short,” the senator stressed after an official from the Environment and Natural Resources Undersecretary Leo Jasareno admitted that there may be scandium, a more valuable element, in the soil mined from Zambales and other parts of the country.
Jasareno noted that low-grade nickel ore is sold starting from $10 per ton, while high-grade nickel ore is sold at $22 per ton.
Scandium, on the other hand, is an element that belongs to the Rare Earth Elements (REE) family. It is used in the manufacture of computers and is tagged as the element of the future.
Jasareno added that before the West Philippine Sea dispute came about, China tried to enter an agreement with the Philippines for the exploration of REE.
Gordon sought more comprehensive data on all mining operations that go to China that involves extraction that are not processed, adding that he has seen similar operations in other provinces such as Agusan, Surigao, Palawan, Ilocos, and Cagayan, among others.
“It’s the destruction of the environment. Would you say that there has been a lot of destruction in the environment from what has been happening here in the two mountains?
“To cut to the chase, I would like to know how many operations like these are happening -- mining operations or buying of sands or whatever that is going to China. It is important for us to safeguard our national interest,” Gordon pointed out.