Tampakan project crops up as hot poll issue in South Cotabato

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KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 26 February) – The Tampakan copper-gold project of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI) is shaping-up as a major political issue in the May 13 local elections.

This after South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Pingoy Jr. urged candidates gunning for provincial posts to disclose their stand on the controversial mining project.

“It should not just be the individual candidates but the party’s stand that should be divulged to the public in this very delicate issue involving the province,” he said in his regular weekly radio program Saturday.

Efforts of SMI to develop the Tampakan copper, touted as the largest known undeveloped copper reserve in Southeast Asia, has been hobbled by the open-pit mining ban imposed by South Cotabato.

In December last year, the company announced that it was moving the target start of commercial operation from 2016 to 2019. Among the major challenges the company cited facing its operation was the open-pit ban in South Cotabato.

Recently, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources granted SMI an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) after rejecting it twice last year on the ground of the open-pit mining prohibition of South Cotabato.

But besides the ECC, an endorsement from the provincial government is among the other requirements needed by the firm before it can proceed to commercial production.

Stressing the open-pit ban is legal unless invalidated by a court, Pingoy said the Tampakan project should be made a political issue because of its potential tremendous impact to the environment.

The company is banking on its economic contribution to the localities and neighboring areas in trying to gain the support for the project.

Pingoy reiterated the provincial government is not against mining but only against the open-pit method.

South Cotabato Second District Rep. Daisy Avance Fuentes signed the environmental code that bans open-pit mining before stepping down as the provincial governor on June 30, 2010.

Pingoy and Fuentes, along with former Koronadal City Mayor Fernando Miguel, are vying for the gubernatorial post in the May 13 elections for which the campaign period will run from March 29 to May 11, 2013.

Fuentes and Miguel could not be immediately reached for comment regarding the challenge issued by Pingoy.

Earlier, Marbel Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez urged the electorate to junk candidates who will support the mining venture of SMI.

“Do not vote those who favor open-pit mining because they’re ‘villains’ of the environment,” the bishop said.

Gutierrez said the diocese will conduct a voter’s education drive in the diocesan jurisdiction that covers the entire provinces of South Cotabato and Sarangani and part of Sultan Kudarat. Koronadal and General Santos cities are also under the Diocese of Marbel.

There are 25 parishes under the diocese.

The diocese is also planning to conduct its own provincial candidates’ forum separately in the provinces of South Cotabato and Sarangani to know the stand of the aspirants, especially regarding the Tampakan project. 

Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer, owns majority of the controlling equity at SMI, with Australian firm Indophil Resources NL as the junior partner. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)

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