KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 21 January) – Set to expire on March 21, 2020, the 25-year Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) awarded to the Tampakan project, has been extended for 12 years – or until March 21, 2032 — in an order issued June 8, 2016 but known only recently.
Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI) is developing the Tampakan project, Southeast Asia’s largest known undeveloped copper and gold reserve.
FTAA No. 002-95-XI was originally granted to Australian firm Western Mining Corp. (WMC) on March 22, 1995. SMI acquired the FTAA from WMC in 2001 with the approval of then Environment Secretary Heherson Alvarez.
The FTAA is subject for renewal for another 25 years, but long before its expiry, SMI
SMI sought and was granted a 12-year extension of the original FTAA, citing “force majeure,” a copy of the order obtained by MindaNews showed.
MindaNews repeatedly requested SMI for an interview – by phone and visits to their offices — since January 11 – but SMI has yet to respond.
Leo Jasareno, then national director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), an agency under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), approved the extension on June 8, 2016 “by authority of the secretary.”
The DENR secretary at the time was Ramon Paje.
The extension was granted three weeks before Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, then already President-elect, was to take over the Presidency from Benigno Simeon Aquino III on June 30, 2016.
“Whereas, thru a letter dated May 11, 2016, SMI requested for a 12-year extension of the term of FTAA No 02-95-XI (Amended) to restore the equivalent period of time lost due to force majeure in view of the various problems it is encountering in the contract area, which have prevented it from fully pursuing its operations therein, such as the legal conflicts, the ban on open-pit mining, the issuance of the CLOAs (Certificate of Land Ownership Awards), peace and order problem and delays in government approval,” Jasareno’s order stated.
Jasareno cited DENR Administrative Order 2010-21 defining “force majeure” as “acts or circumstances beyond the reasonable control of contractor,” underscoring the following circumstances in the SMI case: rebellion, insurrection, civil disturbance, blockade, sabotage, any dispute with surface owners, and adverse action by government.
It added that the cases filed against the FTAA, the provincial government of South Cotabato’s passing of an ordinance in 2010 banning open pit mining, the method that will be employed by the Tampakan project, and the issuance of CLOAs within the contract area “are determined to be acts beyond reasonable control of SMI or Force Majeure.”
Force majeure, it said, is a “justifiable cause” for the extension of the FTAA.
The extension order, which was sent to SMI’s office in Taguig City and the MGB-12 office in Koronadal City through regular mail, shall take effect after the company receives it, the document said.
MGB-12 received the order on July 7, 2016.
Felizardo Gacad, Jr., MGB-12 director, told MindaNews on January 20 that the 12-year extension will be reckoned from the expiration of the original FTAA on March 21, 2020, or until March 21, 2032.
He added the company has the option to renew the FTAA for another 25 years, and if granted, SMI can operate until 2057.
Gacad told MindaNews on January 9 that SMI can only proceed to the extraction phase if it has complied with all the regulatory requirements.
According to Gacad, the MGB-12 still has no copy of the Certification Precondition from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, one of the requirements for SMI’s commercial operation.
Also, the MGB-12 does not have on file the environmental compliance certificate (ECC) of SMI for the Tampakan project, Gacad added.
The late Environment Secretary Gina Lopez cancelled the Tampakan project’s ECC.
Fr. Angelo Buenavides, the diocese’s spokesperson and vicar general said they learned about the 12-year extension only a few days ago
In a mining forum at the Notre Dame of Marbel University here in September 2019, the diocese urged the national government not to renew the FTAA of SMI for another 25 years.
In that forum, Marbel Bishop Cerilo Casicas pledged to sustain the opposition spearheaded by his predecessor, the late Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez, against SMI.
Casicas deplored the Tampakan project, a venture which, according to him, “even God will not approve” considering its impact on the environment, Indigenous Peoples and other residents who will be affected.
Vowing to sustain the local Catholic church’s resistance against open-pit mining, Casicas stressed: “God created humans to protect the environment.”
In a statement on January 21, the Alysansa Tigil Mina (ATM) called the FTAA extension “illegal.”
ATM National Coordinator Jaybee Garganera said the FTAA extension “circumvented the autonomy of the local government of South Cotabato” which had earlier passed an ordinance banning open pit-mining.
The extension order, the ATM said, is a “clear violation of Republic Act 7160 or the Local Government Code of 1991, that enables local government units based on the support of their communities to decide on how to use and protect their land.”
“We stand in solidarity with the local government of South Cotabato to define its path towards sustainable development, without destructive and irrational mining ,” the statement read.
The provincial ban on open pit mining is still in force. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)