KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/13 January) — Efforts to bring the massive Tampakan copper-gold project to commercial phase suffered a major blow after the Department of Environment and Natural Resources rejected the proponent’s application for an environmental compliance certificate (ECC).
Documents obtained by the Diocese of Marbel showed that Environment Secretary Ramon Paje rejected the ECC application of Sagittarius Mines, Inc., (SMI) due to the open-pit mining ban imposed by the provincial government of South Cotabato.
SMI President Peter Forrestal said they were extremely disappointed with the decision but added they intend to “immediately to file an appeal for a reconsideration of the decision as permitted under the ECC application process.”
In a memorandum on January 3, Secretary Paje said they are “returning herewith the application documents with instruction to deny the same, without prejudice to resubmission, until the issues and concern on the use of open-pit mining method shall have been clarified and resolved by the company with the provincial government of South Cotabato.”
The memorandum was addressed to Juan Miguel T. Cuna, national director of the Environmental Management Bureau, who in turn issued an order to SMI, dated January 9, advising it to “refrain from undertaking any development activity in the areas mentioned in the application for ECC until the same is issued in your favor, including permits from concerned government agencies.”
Rene Pamplona, advocacy officer of the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Marbel, said they obtained the documents on Thursday from their partners in Manila.
Marbel Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez on Friday urged South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Y. Pingoy, Jr. to stand firm in banning open-pit mining in South Cotabato and to facilitate the declaration of the mountains in Tampakan as a protected watershed area.
“Do not be afraid. We are strongly behind you. We have these resources: enlightened voters and the praying nuns — the Trappistines, Poor Clares and Passionists,” the bishop said in a letter obtained by MindaNews.
Two other bishops – Kidapawan Bishop Romulo dela Cruz and Digos Bishop Guillermo Afable – also oppose the project. The Tampakan project straddles the provinces of South Cotabato, Davao del Sur and Sultan Kudarat.
Protector of constituents
Fr. Gillarme Joy Peliño, director of the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Marbel, on Friday also wrote South Cotabato Vice Gov. Elmo B. Tolosa that the provincial environment code that bans open-pit mining “has become the protector of the constituents of the province.”
“It has become a powerful legal means for the protection of the interest of South Cotabateños against emerging and real threats cast by an open pit mining method of the proposed copper and gold project of SMI and other environmentally destructive means,” the priest said.
Peliño described the decision of the Environment department as the “fruits of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan’s labor emanating from the environment code.”
With the ECC rejection, the priest appealed to the board members to continue protecting and upholding the environment code and pass an ordinance for the declaration of the mountains in Tampakan as a protected watershed area.
The militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan also rejoiced at the ECC rejection of Sagittarius Mines.
In a statement on Friday, Sagittarius Mines, Inc. confirmed it has received official notification from the DENR denying its application for an ECC for the Tampakan mine project until issues with the use of open pit mining methods have been resolved with the provincial government of South Cotabato.
SMI President Forrestal said they are “concerned this decision was not made on the merits of our Mine Project Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which fully complies with the requirements of the DENR’s own ECC process and is backed by a world-class environmental impact assessment study.”
Forrestal noted that their EIS “is one of the most comprehensive environmental impact assessment studies ever undertaken in the Philippines, which was prepared in line with international standards and further strengthened by the feedback gained from a two-year consultation process that involved at least 9,000 stakeholders.
“During the 40-day review period of our ECC application by the Environmental Impact Assessment Review Committee, an independent panel of experts established by the DENR’s Environmental Management Bureau, all queries regarding SMI’s EIS and its ECC application were addressed to the satisfaction of that committee,” Forrestal said.
”The decision to deny SMI’s ECC application on the basis that the open-pit ban in South Cotabato must be resolved before the national government can issue an ECC is inconsistent with the DENR’s established procedures for the processing of ECC applications,” he added.
“We believe this decision sets a precedent that contradicts the publicly stated views of the Aquino Administration – namely that national laws which permit open-pit mining methods should have precedence over conflicting provincial ordinances,” the company statement said.
“This lack of consistency by the national government poses a very real threat to investment confidence in the Philippines and introduces significant uncertainty to national government approval processes,” it added.
“It also hampers the project’s potential to make what would be a significant contribution to the economic and social development of Southern Mindanao and the Philippines,“ Forrestal said.
Sagittarius Mines is controlled by Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer.
Indophil, the junior equity partner in the Tampakan project, also confirmed the ECC rejection in a disclosure to the Australian bourse.
Richard Laufmann, Indophil chief executive officer, identified the key stumbling block— in moving forward to approvals and commitment to proceed with the development of the Tampakan deposit— as the resolution of the provincial open pit ban, a mining method approved under national law.
Indophil said it has become more active in seeking local Philippine shareholders and together have made recommendations to improve the operating structure and effectiveness of SMI.
“We believe that this delay can be overcome in the near term with the support of our Philippine corporate shareholders, and a committed and aligned response from Xstrata and Indophil,” Laufmann said.
Indophil is eyeing to be listed at the Philippine Stock Exchange. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)