MGB still ‘blind’ over Glencore’s plan for Tampakan project

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 12 August) – Three months after Glencore International plc acquired Xstrata plc, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) has yet to hear from the new management its plans for the controversial Tampakan copper-gold project operated by Sagittarius Mines, Inc.

“SMI has a new management. We still have to hear from Glencore what their plans are. So we will have to reassess the situation [after hearing from them],” Leo Jasareno, MGB director, told MindaNews Friday when asked if the Tampakan project is on track to meet its 2019 target for commercial operations.

Glencore International announced last May 2 that it has completed the takeover of Xstrata plc to form the Glencore Xstrata plc.

Xstrata, through its wholly owned Xstrata Copper, owns 62.5 percent of the 40-percent controlling equity at SMI.

Australian firm Indophil Resources NL owns the rest or 37.5 percent of the controlling equity.

Jasareno, however, noted that SMI was already given an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, after rejecting twice last year its application.

Among the pre-conditions contained in the ECC is for SMI to acquire the endorsement of the provincial, municipal and barangay governments covered by the mining tenement.

South Cotabato is banning open-pit mining through its Environment Code that was approved in 2010. The bulk of the copper and gold deposits is located in Tampakan town.

The Tampakan project also straddles the municipalities of Columbio in Sultan Kudarat, Kiblawan in Davao del Sur and Malungon in Sarangani.

SMI has not challenged in court the ban on open-pit mining, the method it will use in extracting the massive mineral deposits, after three years although it has been strongly lobbying for the lifting of the prohibition since then.

At the sidelines of the 22nd Mindanao Business Conference here, Jasareno appeared evasive when asked if the national government will initiate the filing of a court case challenging the constitutionality of South Cotabato’s open-pit ban.

“We have available remedies under the present system. As I see it, we will have to exhaust those available remedies. I believe this can be resolved,” he said.

Pressed what are the national government’s remedies, Jasareno said: “Continuing efforts to clarify, inform, dialogue, maybe there are issued that have to be properly clarified. That’s why we need continuing engagement. We’re optimistic that these issues can be resolved.”

John Arnaldo, SMI external communications and media relations manager, told MindaNews last year that “as much as the legal process is an option, it is not our preferred option.”

Returning Gov. Daisy Fuentes, who signed the Environment Code before completing her three-year term in 2010, has vowed to implement the open-pit ban of the province.

SMI has until 2020 to start its operation. The Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA), which has a lifespan of 25 years, for the Tampakan project was granted in 1995.

Jasareno said that SMI can still file for an extension since the FTAA is renewable for another 25 years, if it could not start commercial operation in 2019 or 2020.

The Tampakan project is touted as the largest known undeveloped copper-gold minefield in Southeast Asia, with an estimated 17.9 million ounces of gold and 15 million metric tons of copper deposits.