Australian firm scores Aquino gov’t on unresolved open-pit ban

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/25 May) – An Australian mining company having an interest in the Tampakan copper-gold project expressed frustration Wednesday on the failure of the national government to resolve the open-pit mining ban imposed by the provincial government of South Cotabato.

Brian Phillips, Indophil Resources NL chairman, viewed the failure of the national government to settle the open-pit ban to have caused an impact on Western world thinking with respect to the risks involved when investing in minerals development in the Philippines.

“A perceived slowness or reluctance to take national action in the Philippines on this and related matters has seen other provinces move to introduce similar ordinances. This apparent defiance at a provincial government level has taken on a form of domino effect,” Phillips said in a report to the Australian stock market.

South Cotabato approved an environment code that prohibits open-pit mining method in June last year, after which Zamboanga del Norte plans to emulate.

Indophil Resources owns 37.5 percent of the controlling equity in the Tampakan project, which is pursued by Sagittarius Mines, Inc. Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer, exercises management supervision over Sagittarius through its 62.5-percent majority stake.

Phillips said that almost 12 months on since the open-pit ban came to fore, the reality is that it has been a frustrating period for Indophil’s board, management and shareholders.

The open-pit ban issue has, in many ways, been the driving force behind constant share price pressure, he added.

Still, Phillips said they are thankful that the Philippine government “understands just how serious this matter has become and how it is viewed by those contemplating foreign investment in the Philippines’ minerals industry.”

But on the local level, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan committees tasked to act on the request of certain quarters to review the environment code have yet to make up a firm decision.

Ernesto Catedral, chairman of the joint committees on environment protection and justice and legal matters hearing the issue, said he is still waiting for the written position papers of his colleagues.

So far, only one has submitted a position paper, Catedral added.

Jose M. Madanguit, vice chairman of the committee on environment protection, confirmed he already submitted his position.

“My stand is no to the review of the environment code,” said Madanguit, whose stance is the same as the local Catholic Church, which ever since has been against the Tampakan project.

Madanguit was former chair of the committee on environment protection of the previous provincial board that approved the controversial environment code, which former South Cotabato governor and now second district Representative Daisy P. Avance Fuentes signed into law June last year.

John B. Arnaldo, Sagittarius Mines corporate communications manager, said they are closely monitoring the issue even if it does not immediately impact the company.

Sagittarius Mines eyes to start commercial operations by 2016 for its Tampakan project, which is touted as the largest known undeveloped copper-gold deposit in Southeast Asia. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)