Church unfazed as Tampakan project new consultation gains ground

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/22 June) – Foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc. has started recently a new round of stakeholder consultation to run for three months in a bid to win public support for the controversial Tampakan copper-gold project, it was learned on Wednesday.

The company’s move immediately caught critics on guard, with a local Catholic Church leader expressing doubt on the environmental soundness of the Tampakan project.

“We’ll ask our own experts to validate their studies,” Fr. Romeo Catedral, social action director of the Diocese of Marbel, told MindaNews.

Even if Sagittarius Mines could prove that its mining project would not harm the environment, it has to live with an opposing force if it would not change its mining method, open-pit, in extracting the deposits.

“Our opposition against SMI’s open-pit method is non-negotiable,” Catedral said.

John Arnaldo, Sagittarius Mines corporate communications manager, said they have completed the draft of the mining project’s environmental impact statement (EIS), and that the consultations in the next 12 weeks would seek to get the stakeholders’ feedback for possible inclusion in the final draft.

The EIS is a document containing the company’s environmental and social impact assessments. The final draft is expected to be submitted to the Philippine government before the end of the year. It is part of the requirements for the issuance of an environmental compliance certificate, which would allow the company to go on commercial stream.

“During this time SMI will consult with more than 1,200 stakeholders through approximately 50 briefing sessions followed by four public meetings in the provinces of South Cotabato, Davao del Sur, Sarangani and Sultan Kudarat,” Arnaldo said in a statement.

This latest round of stakeholder consultation is a follow-up to SMI’s previous engagement activities held between September and December 2009 when stakeholder input was sought for the development of the proposed mine plan and EIS through a series of small, private consultation meetings and four public scoping meetings, he added.

Catedral said they are trying to secure a full copy of the EIS to give them time to study it, at the same time stressing their resistance is not only limited to the environmental aspect of the Tampakan project.

Our opposition also covers social and sustainable economic issues, he added.

The Tampakan project, which is threatened by a ban on open-pit mining imposed by the South Cotabato provincial government, is also facing security threats from the communist New People’s Army, which launched two successful offensives against the company since 2008.

Peter Forrestal, Sagittarius Mines president, described the completion of the EIS “as a significant milestone for the Tampakan project.”

The EIS has been prepared by Filipino specialists and international experts and identifies the potential environmental and social impacts of the proposed mining operation and details SMI’s comprehensive mitigation strategies.

“We take our environmental and social responsibilities very seriously and, in line with Philippine government regulation, we have consulted extensively with our host communities and other key stakeholders over the past two years regarding our plans for the project,” he said in the same statement.

“Their feedback, together with the results of our environmental impact assessment studies, has been incorporated into our project designs and management plans which have been developed in accordance with leading environmental and industry practices,” he added.

Forrestal said they are now looking forward to sharing these plans with the stakeholders and receiving further feedback in order to finalize the EIS for formal submission to the Philippine government later this year.

If approved, he said, the project “will be a blueprint for ethical modern mineral development in the Philippines and represents an unprecedented opportunity for the Philippines to benefit from its natural resources.”

Separate environmental impact assessment studies for related off-site infrastructure, including a port facility, power station, transmission lines and concentrate pipeline, are currently underway and are expected to be completed in 2012.

Sagittarius Mines is controlled by Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer, with Australian firm Indophil Resources NL as junior equity partner. (Bong S. Sarmiento/ MindaNews)