NIA official warns of flashfloods in proposed mining site

Carlos Salazar, NIA assistant administrator, told members of a government-led inter-agency body leading the implementation of the national government's Mindanao Super Region Project here on Tuesday that the proposed mining operations of the Anglo-Swiss Sagittarius Mines Inc.-Xstrata Copper (SMI) pose dangers to the area's landscape, especially the water systems.

Salazar said that "even in the absence of a study," he sees the mining operation eventually triggering "frequent flashfloods, soil erosion and siltation."

"The water holding capacity of the mountains in the area will eventually diminish and that will create many problems there," he said at the 9th Mindanao Super Region Inter-Agency Meeting here.

Salazar gave this assessment in response to concerns raised during the meeting by South Cotabato Gov. Daisy Avance-Fuentes regarding the lack of a study on the possible effects of SMI's proposed mining operation, especially if the company eventually employs the open-pit method.

"If they eventually open up our mountains, we really don't know how it will affect our environmental landscape and river systems — from Tampakan to Koronadal, Tantangan, Lutayan and the Buluan Lake and all the way to the Rio Grande river system," Fuentes said.

She cited that the area possibly at risk reportedly covers at least 20,000 hectares of farmlands and farming communities.

SMI's mining project covers at least five villages in the municipalities of Tampakan in South Cotabato, Columbio in Sultan Kudarat and Kiblawan in Davao del Sur.

The area's resources reportedly represent one of the largest undeveloped copper-gold deposits in South East Asia and with confirmed mineral resource estimate of 2.2 billion tons containing 12.8 million tons of copper and 15.2 million ounces of gold at a 0.3% copper cut-off grade.

The company, which is currently in the exploration and pre-feasibility studies phase, has maintained that it has not yet decided on whether to employ block-caving or open-pit mining.

However, results of the previous studies conducted by Indophil Resources NL, which held SMI's controlling shares from 2003 until it was dealt in March last year to the Brisbane, Australia-based Xstrata Copper, indicated that the most viable mining option to use is the open-pit, a method strongly opposed by some local officials, environmental activists and Catholic church leaders.

Fuentes urged NIA and other concerned government agencies represented in the Mindanao Super Region Project inter-agency body to launch a comprehensive study, which will reportedly cost around P3 to P4 million.

"(The provincial government) wants to know the effects of the mining operation to our irrigation resources and supplies and other natural resources in the area," she said.

Responding to Fuentes' concerns, Undersecretary Virgilio Leyretana asked concerned government agencies during the meeting to come up with a proposal "to at least mitigate" the problem, saying "the downstream effect is quite devastating."

Leyretana, who chairs the Mindanao Economic and Development Council, later clarified during a press conference that his statement was in reference to Fuentes' concerns and not concerning SMI's proposed mining operation.

Hadja Sittie Mariam Lim, National Economic and Development Authority Region 12 director, said she would personally bring up the matter to the Regional Development Council (RDC) of Region 12 or Southwestern Mindanao and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources' Mines and Geosciences Bureau.

"Even in the exploration stage, SMI is mandated to comply with our environmental laws and complete their environmental assessment," she said. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)