Pingoy backtracks, calls off review of SMI study

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/1 Nov) — South Cotabato  Gov. Arthur Pingoy on Wednesday said he is no longer pursuing a review of the environmental impact study (EIS) of  Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI) after the German team tapped for its expertise reportedly backed out from the proposal.

Pingoy said the the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH or German Development Cooperation in Manila decided to back off after drawing flak from environmental groups.

Nag-create kadto sang controversy kay naggula man sa news, amo na nga gin-call off sang GIZ (It created a controversy when it came out in the news, that’s why GIZ called it off),” Pingoy said.

Pingoy said the proposal cropped up after his trip to Germany.

The review would have answered “all our questions and concerns regarding the Tampakan project,” Rudy Jimenia said in an earlier interview with MindaNews.  Jimenia is executive assistant to the governor.

Pingoy was also hoping the GIZ study could break the impasse between the influential Catholic Church in the province and SMI.

Marbel Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez however dismissed the German study adding that it will not change his and the local church’s position on SMI.

Gutierrez is a strong critic SMI and a longtime anti-open pit mining advocate.

While saying the botched study is not a review of the provincial ordinance that banned open pit mining, Pingoy said its results could weigh on the possible review of the controversial South Cotabato Provincial Environment Code.

The provincial edict was passed in 2010 and was signed days before then Governor Daisy Avance-Fuentes stepped down from office.  Fuentes won in the 2010 elections to reclaim her former seat in the House of Representative.

Fuentes is now running for governor, directly pitting her against Pingoy who is seeking re-election.

Fuentes said she finds the German review very suspicious.

Makaduda (It’s suspicious).  Saan sila kukuha ng pera? (Where will they get the money) to pay for the Germans?” Fuentes asked adding that the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) has neither authorized such review nor did it allocate funds for the purpose.

Pingoy earlier said the cost for the study was very minimal and would have been paid for by the League of Province in the Philippines.

SMI owns the Tampakan Copper and Gold Project that is said to contain the largest untapped deposits of copper and gold in Asia with estimated deposits of up to 15 million metric tons and 17.9 million ounces of copper and gold, respectively.

SMI-Xstrata has repeatedly announced it would pour in US$5.9 billion in investments to extract copper and gold deposits in the village of Tablu in Tampakan, South Cotabato.

SMI said “if approved, the mine (is) estimated to yield an average of 375,000 tonnes per annum of copper and 360,000 ounces per annum of gold in concentrate over the 17 year period of mining and ore production.”

If developed, the mine will contribute an average of PhP134 billion (US$2.8 billion) to the country’s annual GDP and 10.4 per cent of the Gross Regional Domestic Product (GRDP) of Regions 11 and 12, according to SMI corporate affairs superintendent Roy Antonio.

SMI however was denied environmental clearance certificate by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources which cited the provincial environment code as reason for the denial. (Edwin G. Espejo/MindaNews contributor)