Illegal copper ore extractions continue in Tampakan

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/15 November) — Illegal copper ore extraction supposedly within the mines development site of foreign-backed  Sagittarius Mines, Inc. in Tampakan, South Cotabato had remained unabated since its discovery a year ago.

This after a local official confirmed Tuesday that some 200 bags of copper ores were seized Monday afternoon in Barangay Liberty in Tampakan.

“It was reported early Monday to our office by the village chairman [that bags of copper ores] were stored there,” said Eileen Estrada, Tampakan municipal environment and natural resources officer (MENRO), over the phone.

Estrada said she immediately instructed MENRO personnel to check the report that eventually led to the seizure later in the afternoon.

The seized illegal copper ores were transported before noon Tuesday to the office of the Provincial Environment and Management Office in this city, she added.

To date, no production permit has been issued to any company or individual for the extraction of copper and gold in the town of Tampakan.

Sagittarius Mines, which is controlled by Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer, has rights over the mineral resources in Tampakan town.

However, the company’s permit so far is only for exploration.

Estrada did not say who was behind the illegal copper ore extraction.

This was the third seizure of a large volume of illegally extracted copper ores from the mountains of Tampakan.

In September last year, authorities seized an estimated eight metric tons (MT) of copper also in Tampakan town. Eight persons were arrested during the operation.

A month before, around 100 MT of illegal copper ores from the mountains of Tampakan were confiscated by authorities in a series of raids in the area. Police tagged the financiers as Taiwanese nationals.

It was the first time that a huge volume of copper ores was seized by authorities in South Cotabato, although there have been persistent reports of illegal mining activities within the concession area of Sagittarius Mines.

Gov. Arthur Pingoy, Jr. earlier said that Sagittarius Mines has the responsibility to protect its mines development site from illegal miners as required by the Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement granted by the National Government.

John Arnaldo, Sagittarius Mines corporate communications manager, had claimed that they are coordinating with law enforcement agencies to combat illegal mining in their concession area.

Arnaldo said the company, although manned by scores of private security guards, “has no police powers to arrest illegal miners operating within the Tampakan project.”

The company is eyeing the open-pit mining method in extracting the deposits within the mines development site in 2016.

Sagittarius Mines, however, is facing a stumbling block in pursuing the venture with the passage of the provincial environment code that bans open-pit mining, which pro-mining groups want to be lifted.

The company had already submitted its feasibility study to the national government but it is still under review by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Mines and Geosciences Bureau. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)