Environmental certificate for Tampakan project ‘restored’ by Office of the President

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 11 July) — Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI), developer of the mammoth S5.9 billion Tampakan copper-gold project in South Cotabato, has “reacquired” its environmental compliance certificate (ECC), one of the requirements needed to proceed to the commercial production phase, a senior environment official said.

Omar Saikol, Environmental Management Bureau – Region 12 (EMB-12) director, said the ECC of SMI, which the late Environment Secretary Gina Lopez canceled on February 14, 2017, has been restored by the Office of the President (OP).

“The ECC of SMI was reinstated by the Office of the President on May 6, 2019,” Saikol, reading from a prepared document, told reporters on Thursday, 9 July.

Gateway to base camp of Sagittarius Mines, Inc. in Tampakan, South Cotabato. MindaNews photo by BONG SARMIENTO

Felix Alicer, newly installed regional director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-12, called the press conference his first “Meet the Press” engagement with journalists here.

Saikol said that SMI was originally granted the ECC by the EMB main office on February 19, 2013.

The firm needs to secure an ECC because its proposed mining operation falls under the environmentally critical project category, he added.

Speaking briefly to MindaNews after the press conference, Saikol said his office learned from the EMB main office “earlier this year that SMI’s ECC has been restored.”

“We were not notified of the development by our main office but we learned about it only after we inquired,” he said.

A resident maneuvers the dirt road passing a bridge under construction at the Tampakan project area on January 16, 2020 in Tampakan, South Cotabato. MindaNews photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

Lopez cancelled SMI’s ECC, after a review by the DENR, because of the company’s alleged failure to comply with the conditions and permitting requirements set by the ECC.

The late environment secretary also banned the open-pit mining method.

SMI had announced that open-pit mining is the most viable method to extract the massive deposits for the Tampakan project, so named because the minefield is located in Tampakan, South Cotabato.

Touted as Southeast Asia’s largest known undeveloped copper and gold minefield, 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.

The national government granted SMI a 25-year Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) that was to expire on March 21, 2020.

The FTAA is subject for renewal for another 25 years, but long before its expiry, SMI sought and was granted a 12-year extension of the original FTAA.

Workers put in place soil erosion blankets made from coconut husks within the Tampakan project area in Barangay Tablu, Tampakan, South Cotabato on January 16, 2020. MindaNews photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

Leo Jasareno, then national director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), an agency under the DENR, approved the extension on June 8, 2016 “by authority of the secretary.” The DENR secretary at the time was Ramon Paje.

The 12-year extension of SMI’s FTAA, or until March 21, 2032, was not made public until January this year.

The FTAA covers about 10,000 hectare straddling the towns of Tampakan in South Cotabato, Kiblawan in Davao del Sur and Columbio in Sultan Kudarat.

Felizardo Gacad, Jr., MGB-12 director, said during Thursday’s press conference here that they are still waiting for SMI to submit their requirements, including the “restored” ECC and the Certification Precondition (CP) from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples.

The CP certifies that the free, prior and informed consent has been obtained by the project proponent from the concerned indigenous cultural communities.

According to Gacad, he met with SMI representatives last June 22 for project updates.

In October 2019, Gacad, then new to the post here, drew flak for saying that the Tampakan project “was expected to go on full swing soon,” as the Office of the President will lift the order suspending the ECC granted to SMI.

But as it has turned out, as announced Thursday by EMB-12’s Saikol, SMI’s ECC had been “restored” by the Office of the President on May 6, 2019.

Saikol said SMI continues to conduct drilling activities to determine the stability of the ground for the infrastructure facilities that will be built to support the mining operation.

Marbel Bishop Cerilo Casicas reiterates the diocese’s support to the ban on open-pit mining imposed by the South Cotabato government in 2010, during a forum
at the Notre Dame of Marbel University in Koronadal City on Friday, September 13, 2019. MindaNews photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

The Tampakan project has been facing opposition from the local Catholic Church and environment groups.

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

Aside from security threats from the New People’s Army, the Tampakan project has been impeded by the open-pit mining ban imposed by the South Cotabato provincial government since 2010.

Pro-mining groups challenged before a local court the ban on open-pit mining contained in the province’s environment code.

If developed, the Tampakan project “has the potential to make a significant contribution to the economic prosperity of the Philippines and enable a better future for the people of southern Mindanao,” SMI said on its website.  (Bong Sarmiento / MindaNews)

Tampakan mining project extended for 12 years; operations may last until 2057