SMI to continue operations even with signing of Environment Code

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/22 June) —  A mining firm in South Cotabato  that will use open pit method to extract the copper and gold resources in Tampakan town, reportedly the biggest deposit in Southeast Asia,  will not stop operations even if South Cotabato’s Environnment Code which bans open pit mining, is signed into law by Governor Daisy Avance-Fuentes.

“We have always respected and listened to the views, concerns and position of our stakeholders. If the Environment Code is signed , since we are only in the Development and Environmental Social Impact Assessment stage, there is no open pit mining existing at this stage, we continue to proceed with our environmental technical studies, stakeholder engagements and public consultations,” John Arnaldo, Sagittarius Mines, Incorporated’s corporate communications manager, told MindaNews Monday.

Arnaldo had earlier been repeatedly quoted as saying the local Environment Code will not have any bearing in as far as the company’s plans and operations are concerned because Republic Act 7942 or “the Philippine Mining Act allows open-pit mining. A local law cannot supersede a national law.”

SMI, backed by Swiss mining firm Xstrata Copper, has so far completed its feasibility studies for its proposed large-scale copper and gold mining project in the quad-boundary of Tampakan in South Cotabato, Kiblawan in Davao del Sur, Columbio in Sultan Kudarat and Malungon in Sarangani.

The company earlier announced that it is leaning towards the use of the open-pit mining method in the extraction of the area’s copper and gold resources, which it described as the biggest so far in Southeast Asia.

Arnaldo said the national law “does not ban open-pit or any other mining method.”

But Marvic Leonen, Dean of the University of the Philippines College of Law, told MindaNews  by telephone that the Local Government Code which is a national law, “requires local government consent before a national project,  e.g. mining, can be allowed.”

“Local government consent can be framed by an ordinance,” he said.

Fuentes last week said the Provincial Board which passed the Code “reflects the voices of the people, and they voted landslide to approve (it). I will sign that before I leave office (on June 30), she said.

“The decision for that issue was overwhelming. It’s difficult to veto it and I have no reason to veto the same,” she said.

Carlos Isagani Zarate, secretary-general of the Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM) said “the provincial ordinance is in fact presumed to be constitutional as it carries the constitutional mandate of protecting the environment not only for today’s generation  but also for the next generations to come.”

“Also, the national law did not say that the LGU , in the exercise of its regulatory powers granted under the local government code, cannot ban open pit mining,” he said.

In its sustainability report, SMI said the Tampakan copper-gold project is a world-class 2.4 billion ton resource containing 13.5 million tons of copper and 15.8 million ounces of gold.

When developed, it has the potential to generate foreign investment amounting to over USD5 billion, employment opportunities for up to 8,000 to 9,000 people during construction and for around 2,000 during operations, and contribution to local and national taxes.

Majority of Sagittarius’s 40-percent controlling equity in the Tampakan project is held by Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer, teaming up with Australian firm Indophil Resources NL.

The 60-percent non-controlling equity shareholders are the Tampakan Mining Corp. and Southcot Mining Corp. (known as the Tampakan Group of Companies)..

The company eyes 2016 as the start of its commercial production.

Aside from the gold and copper miners, coal miners will also be affected by the provincial ban on open pit mining, Fuentes acknowledged.

“Our coal resources in Ned, Lake Sebu are best mined through open-pit method also, thus investments there will likely be hampered by the environment code,” she told reporters last week.

Should the coal production there start, some 12,000 families will be affected, she noted.

Barangay Ned is a government-designated relocation site, which is among the reasons why the company is facing stiff opposition from the communities.

Due to the near-to-surface location of the coal reserves in Ned,  the best option, according to miners, is to go open-pit mining.

Fr. Romeo Q. Catedral, social action director of the Diocese of Marbel, said “Ned is a watershed area. Mining the coal there would pose not only environmental risks but will also threaten food security.”  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)