Obstacles to Tampakan project cited

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/07 March) — The open-pit mining ban in South Cotabato, anti-mining sentiments, security risks and securing environmental permits remain the key stumbling blocks needing to be hurdled to bring the massive Tampakan copper-gold project to commercial stream, a company presentation released on Wednesday showed.

In its “Overview and update[d] investor presentation,” Indophil Resources NL said that despite the risks, it will maintain a direct and active interest in the development of the Tampakan project, the company’s flagship asset.

Indophil holds a 37.5% stake at Sagittarius Mines, Inc., the Philippine company pursuing the Tampakan project, which is controlled by Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer.

The release of Indophil’s investor presentation came as the Aquino administration is on the process of coming out with a new mining policy.

Indophil said it welcomes the engagement of the Philippine government “in brokering a solution,” apparently in reference to the challenges facing the Tampakan project.

“We now have the government’s full attention via a mining policy review process,” the company claimed, adding that President Benigno S. Aquino III is due to report on it soon.

President Aquino was expected to unveil the new mining policy through an executive order. The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) and the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce of the Philippines earlier raised the concern that the mining policy revision may scare foreign investors away.

The Aquino administration, after initially stressing that national law — which does not ban open-pit mining — should take precedence, denied in January Sagittarius Mines’ application for an environmental compliance certificate.

It cited the unresolved open-pit mining ban imposed by South Cotabato in denying the ECC application.

With the ECC setback and the other risks cited, Indophil said the start of construction could take off in 2013.

Sagittarius Mines earlier targeted to start the construction works in 2012, in time for the first phase of commercial operation in 2016.

Indophil said the 2016 target for commercial production remains in place.

But before the commercial production, investors also need to declare a “commitment to proceed” for the Tampakan project.

Richard Laufmann, Indophil chief executive officer and managing director, said in the firm’s 2011 3rd Quarterly Report that “the project partners, which include the Philippine Government, are “poised to consider ‘commitment to proceed’ during 2012” for the Tampakan project.

Anti-mining advocates, including local Catholic churches, have strongly opposed the Tampakan project since it was revived about a decade ago, on concerns over the environment, health and food security.

Security threats from the New People’s Army also hounded the mining project, with the communist guerrillas launching two major successful offensives against Sagittarius Mines since 2008. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)