Illegal copper mining persists in Tampakan project

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/ 21 August)—Authorities intercepted yesterday eight tons of mineral ores illegally acquired from the mines development site of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc., an official confirmed on Tuesday.

Siegfred Flaviano, South Cotabato Provincial Environment Management Office chief, said the truckload of mineral deposits was apprehended in the boundary of Tampakan and Tupi towns in South Cotabato on Monday.

“We are still investigating if these deposits were extracted using “banlas” (sluice mining) or tunneling method,” he said on the phone, adding they had prior information that minerals would be transported.

Sluice mining is a destructive method banned by the provincial government. It employs high-pressure water jets to dislodge or move sediments, causing siltation, mercury contamination and other devastating effects on the environment.

Illegal sluice mining operations have invaded Tampakan town since 2008. Several persons have been arrested and haled to court since.

In April last year, four persons reportedly engaged in banlas operations were killed in Barangay Pulabato in Tampakan after a landslide hit the area.

Constancio Paye Jr., Mines and Geosciences Bureau Region 12 director, said the latest copper ore seizure could have been extracted using the tunneling method.

He said that with banlas, illegal miners usually do not bring down the ores but already the gold particles.

Paye said that nobody has been convicted so far despite cases filed against the suspected illegal miners since the term of former Gov. Daisy Avance Fuentes, which ended in June 2010. Fuentes is now the second district representative of South Cotabato.

He confirmed that illegal small-scale tunnel operations exist in the mountains of Tampakan and involve the extraction of high-grade copper ores.

There are buyers of copper ores that include Chinese people, Paye said.

Police reportedly said the truck containing the ores was bound for General Santos City.

Authorities have apprehended several truckloads of illegally-extracted copper ores from the Tampakan mining site since two years ago.

John Arnaldo, Sagittarius Mines external communications and media relations manager, earlier acknowledged the illegal mining activities in their tenement, but said the mining firm has not been negligent in addressing the problem since they have been coordinating with authorities.

Tampakan hosts the massive copper-gold project of Sagittarius Mines, Inc, which is not yet into commercial production. The firm’s application for an environmental compliance certificate has been denied by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The company has appealed the Environment department’s decision, which was anchored on the open-pit ban imposed by South Cotabato, to the Office of the President.

Sagittarius Mines has confirmed that the open-pit method is the most viable extraction option due to the shallow location of the deposits from the surface.

The Tampakan project is touted as the largest known undeveloped copper and gold reserve in Southeast Asia. It is one of the key priority mining projects of the government.

The estimated contained copper at Tampakan in total resources has risen from 13.9 million metric tons to 15 million MT while estimated contained gold has risen from 16.2 million ounces to 17.9 Moz, according to a company study. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)