SMI to cut 3,935 hectares of forest, arable lands

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/07 September) — Foreign-owned Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) will clear 3,935 hectares of forest and arable lands when it starts mining operations in the mountains of Tampakan in South Cotabato, company sources said during its first public consultation ever in the run-up to obtaining permits and licenses from various government agencies.

The mining company is also now saying it will need at least 1,450 hectares for its actual open-pit mining activities, more than two thirds of which will be cleared for the pit and waste rock storage facilities.

The rest are intended for various infrastructures and facilities that will later be constructed to support its commercial mining activities.

SMI, which earlier said it will only need 500 hectares for the open pit mine, hopes to commence commercial production in 2016.

The Xstrata Plc-controlled company further said it will build its mine tailings facilities near one of the tributaries of Mal River, the biggest river system in the Tampakan-Columbio area.

SMI assured those who attended the consultation that “strict” safety measures will be adopted to prevent damage to the environment.

The company said its mining development area has been reduced to 9,600 hectares from the 100,000 hectares originally covered by the Columbio Financial Technical Assistance Agreement originally awarded to Western Mining Company (WMC).

WMC later abandoned its exploration activities and sold its interests and rights to the Tampakan Group of Companies (Tampakan Mineral Resources Corp) which brought in Indophil Resources as drilling partner.

Indophil later signed an agreement with MIM (later Xstrata Plc) for the latter to buy 62.5 percent of the company.

In 2007, Xstrata exercised its option over the project to become its controlling partner.

Indophil owns the remaining 37.5 percent of SMI, making the mining firm wholly foreign-owned.

At least 1,000 families, majority of them belonging to the B’laan tribe, will be displaced and relocated once the company begins commercial operations, company officials said.

The gold and copper deposits extracted from the mines site will reportedly be shipped to Australia for smelter and further processing.

On Oct. 20, 2009, Xstrata Copper announced an upgraded mineral resource for the Tampakan project, up from 2.2 billion tonnes (Bt) to 2.4Bt.

The mine life is reportedly expected to reach 70 years with more than US$5.4B in needed investments.

SMI has allegedly spent at least P10 billion already for the exploration and other activities of the company since 2000.

The Catholic Church here is strongly opposed to the project warning residents and government officials that if SMI is allowed to operate, it will destroy the environment and contaminate the river systems in South Cotabato.

The Church also said it will dry up the irrigation system in the lowlands and the aquifers in General Santos and nearby Koronadal City.

The communist-led New People’s Army has also vowed to stop SMI’s mining operations.

On New Year’s Day in 2008, some 40 guerrillas raided and burned down the main base camp of SMI in Tablu village in Tampakan.

SMI would later abandon the camp and transfer it to Kiblawan in Davao del Sur for security reasons.

The consultation was attended by some 3,000 residents, mostly coming from host communities of SMI.

Anti-mining groups were noticeably absent, but sources said they are gearing for a major showdown on September 23 when the public hearing goes to Koronadal City.

Last year, the provincial government of South Cotabato passed an environment code banning open-pit mining in the province. (Edwin G. Espejo writes for