Tampakan project not yet due for production – MGB-12 exec

TAMPAKAN, South Cotabato (MindaNews / 24 Oct) – The US$5.9 billion Tampakan project here, Southeast Asia’s largest known undeveloped copper and gold minefield, is not yet due for commercial production due to some reasons, the chief of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau-Region 12 (MGB-12) clarified Thursday.

Sagittarius Mines, Inc. camp site in Tampakan. MindaNews file photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

Felizardo Gacad Jr., newly installed MGB-12 acting director, made the pronouncement after he drew flak for saying that the Office of the President will lift the order suspending the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) given to Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI), the operator of the Tampakan project.

Gacad’s pronouncement was published on October 21 by the Philippine News Agency (PNA) in an article titled “Tampakan mining project to go full-swing soon: MGB-12,” which was picked up by other media outlets.

The PNA has taken down the article upon checking Wednesday night.

“As of the latest, there is already a timeline for the lifting of the suspension of the ECC because the Office of the President has already decided to that effect,” the state-run news agency quoted him as saying, based on an interview by a local radio station in Koronadal City.

MindaNews obtained the recording, which appropriately quoted Gacad as saying in the PNA report.

In his statement, Gacad belied that the company’s operation will go full-swing in the coming months.

“Although there is a pending request to lift the suspension of SMI’s ECC, this is just one requirement that the company needs to secure,” he said.

The late Environment Secretary Gina Lopez cancelled more than two years ago SMI’s ECC because it will employ open-pit mining.

President Rodrigo Duterte himself ordered a ban on the open-pit mining method.

Gacad said that SMI also needs to secure the Certificate Pre-Condition from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples.

The other challenge for the company is the open-pit mining ban imposed in 2010 by the South Cotabato provincial government, he added.

SMI declined to comment on Gacad’s pronouncement when sought for reaction Thursday.

Jaybee Garganera, national coordinator of Alyansa Tigil Mina, slammed Gacad’s pronouncement as “lawyering for the mining industry and creating confusion.”

“We do not know from what planet Engr. Gacad is getting his information giving him misplaced optimism about the re-activation of the ECC for the Tampakan project,” Garganera said in an email.

Diocese of Marbel Bishop Cerilo Casicas recently vowed to sustain the local Catholic church’s opposition against the Tampakan project on concerns over the environment, food security and human rights.

The prelate urged the national government not to renew the firm’s 25-year Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA), which was granted on March 22, 1995.

The FTAA covers about 10,000 hectare straddling the towns of Tampakan in South Cotabato and Kiblawan in Davao del Sur, according to the latest company briefer. Previously, the firm included Columbio in Sultan Kudarat as part of its project area.

Based on the firm’s studies, the Tampakan project has the potential to yield an average of 375,000 tons of copper and 360,000 ounces of gold in concentrate per annum in the 17-year-life of the mine.

Lately, supporters of the Tampakan project have aired advertisements over local radio stations pushing its operations for its economic benefits.

The Mindanao-grown conglomerate Alsons Group, through Alsons Prime Investments Corp., owns the controlling stake of SMI following the exit of Anglo-Swiss miner Glencore plc in 2015. The deal was worth US$290 million.

In a December 2016 Philippine Daiy Inquirer report, SM Investments Corp. chief finance officer Jose Sio confirmed ongoing talks for the SM group to invest in the Tampakan mine, as a majority stakeholder.

Updates could not be obtained in the meantime if the deal had succeeded. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)