GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 20 Feb) – The issuance of a conditional environmental compliance certificate (ECC) to foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) does not guarantee that the company would eventually be allowed to mine the vast copper and gold resources in the tri-boundaries of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Davao del Sur provinces, a regional environment official said.
Constancio Paye Jr., regional director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB)-Region 12, said Wednesday SMI will need to comply with a number of vital requirements and undergo several evaluation and assessment processes before the DENR would decide on whether the firm could pursue or not with its planned large-scale mining operations in the area.
“An ECC is not a permit to mine the area. It’s a document that details a set of conditionalities for the company to comply with before it could proceed with the processing of the project’s other environmental requirements,” he said in a radio interview.
The official said SMI will need to further accomplish the formulation and submission of a declaration of mining project feasibility, the project’s environmental protection and enhancement program, final mine rehabilitation and decommissioning plan and free prior and informed consent, among others.
He said the company is also required to engage with the area’s local government units, especially with the provincial government of South Cotabato, for the other permitting requirements.
On Tuesday, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje issued a conditional ECC to the company’s US$5.9-billion Tampakan copper-gold project despite a standing ban on open-pit mining implemented by the provincial government of South Cotabato.
Among the conditions cited in the ECC were the settlement of the question on social acceptability, protection of the rights of indigenous people, land access under the Department of Agrarian Reform and the willingness to assume continuing liability over any environmental damage.
The open-pit ban, which was embodied in the province’s environment code, was the main reason for the DENR’s denial in January last year of SMI’s application for ECC.
SMI, which is controlled by the world’s fourth largest copper producer, Xstrata Copper, had disclosed that it would employ the controversial open-pit mining method for its operations, a move vehemently opposed by local environmental groups and the Roman Catholic Church.
“SMI will also have to hurdle that (open-pit ban) before it could eventually proceed to the construction and development stage,” Paye said.
MGB-12 and other mining proponents in the region have pending petitions before the South Cotabato provincial board for a review and revision of the open-pit ban mining provision of the provincial environment code.
Paye did say how the company should deal with the issue on the open-pit ban but noted that the agency will continue with its appeal and engagements on the matter with the provincial government.
Meantime, with the issuance of the conditional ECC, the official said the agency will soon work on the convening of the project’s mine rehab fund committee.
He said the committee will be composed of representatives from local stakeholders, concerned government agencies and non-government organizations.
“It will be tasked to implement and review the environmental plans of the company as well as deputize a multipartite team that will monitor its compliance to the provisions of the environmental protection and enhancement program on the ground,” he said.
Paye said the establishment of the committee were among the safeguards set by the DENR to ensure the company’s compliance with environmental standards in all of its pre-mining activities.
SMI’s conditional ECC covers the project located in Tampakan, South Cotabato; Malungon, Sarangani; Columbio in Sultan Kudarat; and Kiblawan in Davao del Sur.
The 9,605-hectare Tampakan project is expected to produce an average annual yield of 375,000 metric tons of copper and 360,000 ounces of gold. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)