Small-scale miners eye operations in Tampakan

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/15 February)—With the denial of the environmental compliance certificate (ECC) to Sagittarius Mines Inc., several individuals have expressed interest to establish small-scale mining operations in Tampakan, South Cotabato.

Siegfred Flaviano, Provincial Environment Management Office chief, said Wednesday that representatives of the group have approached the agency on how to get a clearance for legitimate small-scale mining activities.

“Although they have not formally filed an application, they are asking about the process and we have given them the requirements,” he told MindaNews.

He described those wanting to put up small-scale mining operations in the mountains of Tampakan “as private citizens of Liberty,” one of the town’s barangays.

Tampakan hosts the massive copper-gold project of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines Inc, whose application for an ECC was denied last January 3 by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Sagittarius Mines, which is controlled by Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer, has since filed a motion for reconsideration with the Environment department.

Environment Sec. Ramon J.P. Paje ordered the denial of the ECC application of Sagittarius Mines in deference to the open-pit mining ban imposed by the South Cotabato provincial government.

Rene Pamplona, advocacy officer of the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Marbel, a staunch critic of Sagittarius Mines, separately confirmed the intention of locals to have legitimate small-scale mining operations in Tampakan.

“They want to engage in hydraulic or sluice mining operations,” he said.

Sluice mining, locally called banlas, is a destructive method banned by the provincial government. Employing high-pressure water jets to dislodge or move sediments, it has a devastating effect on the
environment including siltation and mercury contamination.

Flaviano said that banlas operations are still rampant in the mountains of Tampakan, touted as the largest known undeveloped copper-gold deposit in Southeast Asia.

Sagittarius Mines plans to start the commercial production of the Tampakan project in 2016 with an estimated capital requirement of $5.9 billion, potentially the largest single foreign investment in the country.

Flaviano said the consent of Sagittarius Mines would be needed before the small-scale applications would be processed if these fall within the tenement of the mining company.

The small-scale mining applicants would likewise need to get an area status clearance from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, he added.

Constancio Paye Jr., MGB regional director, said that no small-scale mining operator has so far approached his agency for such requirement.

John Arnaldo, Sagittarius Mines corporate communications manager, bucked possible small-scale mining activities in the company’s tenement.

“Under our FTAA (Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement) contract with the government, the mine area is solely for large-scale minerals development,” he said in a text message.

Under Republic Act 7076 or the People’s Small-Scale Mining Act of 1991, the issuance of permit has been devolved to the provincial or local governments.

On the other hand, permits for large-scale mining ventures are issued by the national government. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)