Rio Tuba and Coral Bay nickel mining and processing in Palawan, Philippines

Production of nickel and cobalt sulfide from ores mined in open pit by Filipino and Japanese companies, possibly endangering human health and biodiversity.


These are Japanese-owned and also Filipino owned nickel and cobalt mining and processing plants in Palawan very possibly causing grave danger to human health and irreversible damage to biodiversity.

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Basic Data
NameRio Tuba and Coral Bay nickel mining and processing in Palawan, Philippines
ProvincePalawan Island
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Tailings from mines
Mineral processing
Specific CommoditiesNickel. Cobalt.
Tourism services
Live Animals
Chemical products
Project Details and Actors
Project Details270,000 metric tons annually of nickel. Rio Tuba is known for its nickel mineral reserves. The primary minesite of Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation(RTN) is located within its jurisdiction. The Coral Bay Nickel Corporation (CBNC), a joint venture between Japanese investors and RTN, put up a US$180-million expanded Hydrometallurgical Processing Plant (HPP). The plant is designed to extract nickel from low-grade ores previously considered waste.

Sumitomo provides a hydrometallurgical technology whereby laterite ore, a low nickel content oxidized ore, is smelted in sulfuric acid and heated to high temperatures, and only nickel and cobalt are eluted in the liquid by applying high pressure. Sumitomo " launched commercial operations for intermediate nickel products on Palawan Island in the Philippines in April 2005. We were the global leader in the industry that successfully employed the special technology, HPAL method for refining low content nickel ore (laterite) which up to now was impossible to do". (6)

Nickel Asia owns majority stakes in Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corp. in Palawan (CHECK), and it is owned by the Zamora family which also is influential in Parliament, controlling appointments (as argued by former secretary for the Environment, Gina Lopez).

According to FoE of Japan, in Rio Tuba, Bataraza, southern tip of Palawan Island, Philippines, Coral Bay Nickel Project (CBNP) was launched to produce and export mixed nickel-cobalt sulfide to Japan for 20 years. Even before the operation and till today, the environmental and social issues related to this project have been pointed out. For example, the impact to Indigenous peoples, or Pala’wan, the impact to coral reef caused by the construction of the port facilities, and increase in the number of skin diseases are concerned. Moreover, the second plant construction plan, which was announced in March 2006, raised an alarm that these impacts could expand. The 90% of the equity for Coral Bay Nickel Corporation is owned by several Japanese corporations. The project is also financed by Japan Bank for International Corporation (JBIC) and insured by Nippon Export and Investment Insurance (NEXI). The second plant has been also provided the insurance by NEXI.
Project Area (in hectares)5,265
Level of Investment (in USD)180,000,000 investment in 2006
Type of PopulationSemi-urban
Start Date2002
Company Names or State EnterprisesRio Tuba Mining Corporation (RTNMC) from Japan
Nickel Asia Corporation (NAC) from Philippines
Coral Bay Nickel Corporation from Philippines
Sumitomo Metal Mining Corporation (SMMC) from Japan
Relevant government actorsDENR (Dpt of Environment and Natural Resources)
International and Financial InstitutionsJapan Bank for International Corporation (JBIC) from Japan
Nippon Export and Investment Insurance (NEXI) from Japan
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersFriends of the Earth Japan

Palawan NGO Network Inc. (PNNI)

The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingIndigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Social movements
Wastepickers, recyclers
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of MobilizationDevelopment of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Objections to the EIA
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Desertification/Drought, Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Mine tailing spills, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Other Environmental impacts
Potential: Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Waste overflow
OtherImpact to coral reef.
Health ImpactsVisible: Other Health impacts
Potential: Accidents, Occupational disease and accidents, Other environmental related diseases
OtherPresence of Hexavalent Chromium according to research by Friends of the Earth Japan
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Violations of human rights
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCorruption
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.The companies involved are too powerful for the regulatory capacity of the Philippine officials. EcaWatch (7) listed the impacts of the Rio Tuna / Coral Bay investment in 2006 as the impact to Indigenous peoples, or Pala’wan, the impact to coral reef caused by the construction of the port facilities, and increase in the number of skin diseases. Moreover, the second plant construction plan, which was announced in March 2006, raised an alarm that these impacts could expand. The main concerns include the following; Lack of Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) from Indigenous Peoples, or Pala’wan. Impact to the life and the culture of Indigenous Peoples, Pala’wan, by extracting limestone in the area, or Pala’wan’s traditional sacred place. Impact to coral reefs from the construction of the harbor facilities.

Leakage of hazardous wastes from the tailing dams

Reports of various environmental impacts and health hazards

Planning to obtain raw material for the smelters from an Natural Protected area
Sources and Materials

(3) Alexander Perez Carmona, Conflicts, Power and Environmental Institutions: The Case of Social Unrest on Palawan (Philippines) due Mining External Effects. Master's Thesis, 2005
[click to view]

(1) ALDAW_BULANJAO_2010_REPORT.pdf. “THE BULANJAO 2010 GEO-TAGGED REPORT” MINING AGGRESSION IN CORE ZONES AND ECOLOGICALLY FRAGILE AREAS ON PALAWAN ISLAND (THE PHILIPPINES). A joint field assessment of ALDAW (Ancestral Land/Domain Watch) and the Centre for Biocultural Diversity (CBCD) of the University of Kent (UK).

(2) Remarkable Water Contamination by Hexavalent Chromium Found surrounding Japanese Nickel Processing Plants in the Philippines: FoE Japan calls on Sumitomo to Take Effective Mitigation
[click to view]


(4) The Inquirer, 15 August 2015, Palawan gov challenges mining foe to fistfight. Redempto D. Anda - Correspondent.
[click to view]

(7)ECA WATCH. Coral Bay Nickel Project, Since 2002 a large nickel processing plant built on the southern tip of the Philippines' Palawan island was financed with the help of Japanese ECAs. The project has had serious environmental and human right repercussions.
[click to view]

Palawan News. DENR Sec. Lopez visits Rio Tuba mine in Palawan

Dec 7, 2016.
[click to view]

(6) Sumitomo Metal Mining. Environmental Preservation.

Environmental Response to Overseas Smelting Operations. Description of Coral Bay factory,
[click to view]

Media Links

Palawan indigenous populations (in Spanish)
[click to view]

(5) Palawan river poisoned with cancer-causing chemicals- Kalikasan PNE. Ina Alleco Silverio February 25, 2012
[click to view]

Interesting short video on nickel mining in Rio Tuba, favourable to the company. "First-hand look at Nickel Asia's open pit mining in Palawan".
[click to view]

Other Documents

Thick mangrove forest at the estuary of the Tuba River, and the nickel mining site and the nickel processing plants seen at the backside (October 2011, FoE Japan)
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorMaster Gestión Integrada de Aguas - Asignatura 'Ecología Política del Agua' & JMA
Last update26/02/2018