SMI eyes to start FPIC process later this year

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/07 August)–Foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI) is eyeing to commence later this year getting the consent of indigenous communities for the controversial Tampakan project, a company executive said.

Hounded by the open pit ban and security threats from armed tribal residents and the communist New People’s Army (NPA), the Tampakan project is touted as the largest known undeveloped copper-gold reserve in Southeast Asia.

In its second quarter report released last week, Brian Phillips, chair of Australian firm Indophil Resources NL, said the Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) process, by “initial indications,” can commence later this year.

Indophil owns 37.5 percent of the 40 per cent controlling equity in SMI, with the balance by Glencore Plc.

The Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICCl), an inter-government agency, has requested the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples to commence planning with SMI for the indigenous peoples’ FPIC process, according to the Indophil report lodged with the Australian bourse.

Indophil said the MICC has also directed SMI to commence getting the endorsements of local government units.

“It has started positively” and will continue over the coming months, the company said.

SMI’s plan to develop the Tampakan project has been hampered by the open-pit mining ban imposed by South Cotabato province in 2010.

The bulk of the minerals are concentrated in Tampakan town, South Cotabato.

The Tampakan project also straddles the towns of Columbio in Sultan Kudarat and Kiblawan in Davao Del Sur.

The local Catholic church and other environment groups have staunchly opposed the Tampakan project over environmental, food security and health concerns.

The Tampakan project area has been stained by blood with several killings that involved the lives of both pro- and anti-mining supporters over the years.

B’laan tribesmen have armed themselves to oppose the mining project, which is also facing security threats from the communist NPA rebels.

Last May, the communist guerillas attacked and burned the base camp of SMI in Barangay Kimlawis in Kiblawan, Davao del Sur. On New Year’s Day 2008, the rebels also stormed and burned the SMI base camp in Barangay Tablu, Tampakan, South Cotabato.

Ellen Grace Subere-Albios, chair of the environment committee of the South Cotabato provincial board, earlier said over the radio that they are planning to hold an environment summit this September to discuss the pros and cons of the Tampakan project.

Constancio Paye Jr., Mines and Geosciences Bureau director for Region 12, has asked anew the provincial board to lift the open-pit mining ban.

The Tampakan project contains an estimated 15 million metric tons of copper and almost 18 million ounces of gold, with potential for growth, based on the company feasibility study.

The development cost for the Tampakan project was pegged at US$5.9 billion, including a “dedicated” power station worth US$ 900 million.

It is expected to contribute to the growth of the regional economy with the investment, jobs and taxes it will remit to government coffers once commercial operation starts. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)