Exec says security, social acceptability and work safety hound Tampakan project

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/29 May) — Security, social acceptability and work safety  continue to hound the Tampakan copper-gold project of Sagittarius Mines, Inc.  last year, the company’s major foreign backer stressed.

In its 50-page Tampakan Project Sustainability Report 2010 released early this month, Mark Williams, Xstrata Copper general manager for the Tampakan project, said these three factors were given increased focus because they were the major challenges during the period.

Xstrata Copper owns 62.5% of the controlling equity at Sagittarius Mines, which in 2008 and 2009 suffered attacks launched by the communist New People’s Army.

The first was the burning of the company’s base camp in the mountains of Tampakan town and the second was the NPA’s raid on the municipal police station in the poblacion area. Sagittarius Mines lost at least P12 million in the base camp attack, while three policemen were injured in the succeeding NPA offensive.

“Regional security continued to be a challenge for SMI in 2010, resulting in the temporary suspension of field activities on two occasions. The most serious incident occurred in December, when two security guards were injured in a shooting incident by unknown person(s) while on post in Datal Alyong, Tablu, in Tampakan,” Williams recalled.

He added the company takes the safety of its employees and contractors very seriously and that they continue to closely monitor security situations in the region.

Last March, three workers of a construction company contracted by Sagittarius Mines for a road graveling project were killed in an ambush within the mines development site.

Williams said that as part of the security precautions of Sagittarius Mines, workers are provided with regular updates and guidance on security matters. The firm also continues to work with key stakeholders to improve security in the region.

He also admitted the approval of the South Cotabato Environment Code last year was disappointing.

The Environment Code bans open-pit mining, the method Sagittarius Mines is eyeing to extract massive copper and gold resources for its planned commercial operations in 2016.

Several quarters have asked for a review of the open-pit ban, but the provincial board has yet to make up a decision regarding the request.

“I am confident that through our responsible partnerships, continued dialogue and engagement with our key stakeholders, an amicable resolution will be found,” Williams said.

The Tampakan project is also facing staunch opposition from the local Catholic Church.

As to work safety, Williams said “it is paramount we continue to work hard at our safety performance.” (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)