KORONADAL CITY -- The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) will seek a resolution to remove apprehensions over the multibillion-dollar Tampakan Copper-Gold Project in South Cotabato while upholding its mandate of protecting the environment.

DENR Secretary Ramon Jesus Paje vowed to find a win-win solution to the problem.

Updates on President Benigno Aquino III's presidency

Under instructions from President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III to build consensus between the project holder and community members concerned about the environment, DENR secretary Paje said their main objective at present is to find a solution that would satisfy the Provincial Government and the business sector.

"We should attain a compromise. The president has already given us that mandate. It is very important for us," Paje said.

Last month, Daisy Avance-Fuentes, then governor of South Cotabato, signed a law banning open-pit mining in the province. The move immediately affected the fate of the $5.2 billion Tampakan project, considered to be Southeast Asia's largest undeveloped copper-gold prospect.

The Tampakan Project, operated by Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI), the Philippine affiliate of Xstrata Plc, is estimated to contain 13.5 million tons of copper and 15.8 million ounces of gold at a 0.3 percent cut-off grade.

President Aquino assured Monday that talks were underway to seek common ground between the Provincial Government's safety and environmental concerns, on one hand, and the long-term benefits the project is expected to bring to the local and national economy on the other.

"I will work towards getting them to meet on a common ground that will allay the fears and also afford us the benefits of this investment," the President said.

Constancio Paye Jr., regional director of MGB in Davao Region, wrote former governor Daisy Fuentes on June 25 citing provisions of the environment code that are deemed to be in conflict with the national law.

Paye told Fuentes that the South Cotabato Provincial Board does not have the power to specify areas where mining activities are prohibited as it is only Congress that has the power to do so as specified in Section 19 of Republic Act 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act.

"We cannot overemphasize that the South Cotabato government cannot, on its own accord, regulate, much less ban, mining activities within its jurisdiction since mining operations are a national concern regulated by the state," the letter read.

"An ordinance in conflict with a state law of general character and statewide application is universally held to be invalid. Moreover, an ordinance which seeks to prohibit an activity, which is merely regulated by the state is considered illegal and ultra vires (beyond the power)," Paye said in his letter.