Roy Antonio, SMI's senior coordinator for corporate affairs, said the company has significantly reduced its project area during the last several years to ensure that their operations will not be encroaching on portions of the Mt. Matutum Protected Landscape.
"Our original contract area may have covered part of that (Mr. Matutum Protected Landscape) but our reduced area now does not encroach any declared protected area," he said in a press conference here.
From the original 99,000 hectares set in the Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) earlier obtained by the company, Antonio said its remaining contract area now reportedly cover only around 23,000 hectares.
"As our operation will progress, the project area will be reduced significantly to cover only the specific areas where the resources are," Antonio said.
Aside from the company's FTAA area in the tri-boundaries of Sultan Kudarat, South Cotabato and Davao del Sur provinces, he said the company is currently exploring mineral resources in some 4,000 hectares in the municipalities of Malungon in Sarangani and Kiblawan in Davao del Sur.
SMI's Tampakan Copper-Gold Project reportedly sits on a high grade mineral deposit at 700 million tons with .81 percent of copper and .32 grams of gold per ton, reportedly the largest undeveloped copper and gold reserve in Southeast Asia.
Antonio said that the company is currently conducting various environmental studies to make sure that the environment in their project area will be preserved and protected.
He said the company has been continually rehabilitating the former logging areas in the mountains and areas that they have explored.
The Mt. Matutum Protected Landscape, which was issued through Proclamation 552 on March 20,1995, covers at least 18,000 hectares in the hinterland areas of South Cotabato.
Environmentalists have expressed concerns over the operations of SMI fearing it might destroy portions of the protected watersheds and landscapes in the area.
Farmers in Davao del Sur also specifically raised fears about the possible effects of the company's operations on the Bong Mal River, one of the main sources of water of farmlands in the area.
Eliezer Billanes, secretary general of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, General Santos and Davao del Sur Alliance for Genuine Development Agenda or Socsksargen Agenda, said the proposed mining area of SMI reportedly includes the "virgin forest" of Bolol Lomot in Columbio, Sultan Kudarat.
"They are going to mine an area that serves as the main source or headwater of at least five major river systems in the area and of Liguasan Marsh," he said.
Whether it is a declared protected area or not, Billanes said the "area is not negotiable for mining."
"It should be conserved, protected and rehabilitated or reforested for sustained, sufficient, clean and safe water for us and the future generations," Billanes said. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)