KORONADAL CITY – Efforts to bring the massive Tampakan copper-gold project to commercial phase suffered a major blow after the Environment department rejected the proponent’s application for an environmental compliance certificate (ECC).
Documents obtained by the Diocese of Marbel showed that Environment Secretary Ramon Paje rejected the ECC application of Sagittarius Mines Inc. because of the open-pit mining ban in South Cotabato.
"We are returning herewith the application documents with instruction to deny the same without prejudice to resubmit until the issues and concern on the use of open-pit mining method have been clarified and resolved by the company [SMI] with the Provincial Government of South Cotabato," Paje said in a memorandum dated last January 3.
The memorandum was addressed to Juan Miguel T. Cuna, national director of the Environmental Management Bureau, who in turn issued an order to Sagittarius Mines, dated January 9, which states:
"You are advised to refrain from undertaking any development activity in the areas mentioned in the application for ECC until the same is issued in your favor, including permits from concerned government agencies."
Rene Pamplona, advocacy officer of the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Marbel, said they obtained the documents on Thursday from their partners in Manila.
Marbel Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez, an outspoken critic of Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI), hailed the decision of the DENR.
The militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan also rejoiced at the ECC rejection of SMI.
In a statement Friday, SMI confirmed it has received official notification from the DENR, denying its application for an ECC for the Tampakan mine project.
SMI president Peter Forrestal said SMI was extremely disappointed with the decision.
"SMI intends immediately to file an appeal for a reconsideration of the decision as permitted under the ECC application process," he said.
"We are concerned this decision was not made on the merits of our Mine Project Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which fully complies with the requirements of the DENR's own ECC process and is backed by a world-class environmental impact assessment study," Forrestal added.
Forrestal said their EIS is one of the most comprehensive environmental impact assessment studies ever undertaken in the Philippines, which was prepared in line with international standards and further strengthened by the feedback gained from a two-year consultation process that involved more than 9,000 stakeholders.
“During the 40-day review period of our ECC application by the Environmental Impact Assessment Review Committee, an independent panel of experts established by the DENR's Environmental Management Bureau, all queries regarding SMI's EIS and its ECC application were addressed to the satisfaction of that committee,” Forrestal said.
"The decision to deny SMI's ECC application on the basis that the open-pit ban in South Cotabato must be resolved before the National Government can issue an ECC is inconsistent with the DENR's established procedures for the processing of ECC applications," he added.
"We believe this decision sets a precedent that contradicts the publicly stated views of the Aquino administration - namely that national laws which permit open-pit mining methods should have precedence over conflicting provincial ordinances," the company said.
"This lack of consistency by the National Government poses a very real threat to investment confidence in the Philippines and introduces significant uncertainty to National Government approval processes," it added.
SMI is controlled by Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer.
Indophil, the junior equity partner in the Tampakan project, also confirmed the ECC rejection in a disclosure to the Australian bourse.
Richard Laufmann, Indophil chief executive officer, identified the key stumbling block -- in moving forward to approvals and commitment to proceed with the development of the Tampakan deposit -- as the resolution of the provincial open pit ban, a mining method approved under national law.
Indophil said it has become more active in seeking local Philippine shareholders and together have made recommendations to improve the operating structure and effectiveness of SMI.
"We believe that this delay can be overcome in the near term with the support of our Philippine corporate shareholders, and a committed and aligned response from Xstrata and Indophil," Laufmann said.
Indophil is also eyeing to be listed at the Philippine Stock Exchange. (Sun.Star Davao/Sunnex)