Decision denying ECC to Tampakan copper-gold project stays

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/04 June) — Mining firm Sagittarius Mines Inc. suffered another setback when the Environment Management Bureau (EMB) denied its appeal to have an earlier decision overturned, derailing further its target commercial production date.

In a decision handed down on May 22, 2012 but only released last week, the EMB’s legal department stood pat on its decision to deny the firm the required environmental clearance certificate (ECC) citing the Provincial Environment Code of South Cotabato which bans the open pit mining method.

Environment Secretary Ramon Jesus Paje said the ordinance must first be repealed or amended before his office could issue an ECC.


The ordinance raises legal issues as the country’s existing mining law is silent on open pit mining method.


Republic Act No. 7160 or the 1991 Local Government Code of the Philippines however empowers local government units to impose statutory limitations to protect the environment covered by its territory.


In 2010, then South Cotabato governor Daisy Avance-Fuentes signed the ordinance banning open pit mining in the province.


Incumbent provincial governor Arthur Pingoy said the provincial board is not inclined to repeal or amend the ordinance.  Until it is recalled, the governor said he will implement all its provisions, including denying permits to mining companies that will employ open pit mining method.


Last week, SMI invited journalists and stakeholders to a presentation of its sustainability report for 2011.


In a video and PowerPoint presentation, SMI still expressed hope that the EMB will reverse its earlier decision.


“The denial decision was not made on the merits of our mine EIS, which fully complies with the requirements of the EMB’s own ECC process and is backed by a world-class EIA,” SMI president Peter Forrestal said in his 80-page report.


Mines and Geosciences Bureau director Leo L. Jasareno said the company’s “most available remedy under the law” now would be to file an appeal to the Office of the President.


SMI has so far avoided bringing the issue to the Supreme Court.


Last week, however, SMI general manager for external affairs Mark Williams said the company is considering bringing the matter to court.


The Xstrata Plc-controlled SMI owns the Tampakan project reputed to hold Asia’s biggest untapped deposits of copper and gold.  It plans to pour in US$5.9 billion to extract ore deposits that is said to have a mining life of at least 20 years.


It will reportedly generate revenues of up to $37 billion during its entire 20-year mine life.


According to its original target, SMI plans to go on commercial production in 2016.


Strong opposition from the local Catholic Church and environment groups, coupled with its recent legal setbacks, has put SMI operations in jeopardy. (Edwin G. Espejo/MindaNews)