For an official of Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI), proof of the “environmental soundness” of the company’s Tampakan gold and copper project in South Cotabato came in the form of an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
SMI, a company largely owned by global miner Xtrata Copper, said that the ECC served as a go-signal from the DENR—the first step of a long process that would culminate in the construction of an open pit by 2015.
The company hopes to begin commercial operations in 2019.
“Before the ECC was issued, we were required to come up with the Environment Impact Statement (EIS) which is composed of extensive studies on all aspects of the environment and the project’s possible impact,” John Arnaldo, corporate communications officer, said in a telephone interview.
In its EIS, the company asserted that the open-pit mine of SMI would have no adverse impact on the environment, Arnaldo said.
According to SMI’s environmental impact statement, the proposed open pit in Tampakan will measure 2.5 kilometers wide, 3 kilometers long and 800 meters deep.
“All efforts would be made to reduce the potential environmental impacts posed by the open-pit mine,” SMI said.
Environment groups on Thursday staged a protest outside the DENR headquarters over the issuance of the ECC. The groups claimed that the project will “destroy watersheds, pollute the environment and threaten life” in southern Mindanao.
“DENR should not have granted Xstrata-SMI an ECC, because that implies the fulfillment of all requirements, including the mitigation of environmental impacts when in fact it is a threat to the people and the environment,” Defend Patrimony, a group against large-scale mining, said in a statement.
Other groups, including Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, called for the cancellation of the ECC.
“Mining in Tampakan will hit critical watersheds that supply water for domestic use and irrigation in southern Mindanao,” Ma. Finesa Cosico of group Agham (Advocates of Science and Technology for the People) said. By allowing SMI to mine in Tampakan, “the government abandons its responsibility to ensure clean and safe water for the people.”
The SMI official, on the other hand, admitted that the “social acceptability” condition of the DENR in granting the ECC is still being worked out by the company.
“We are still securing the consent from the communities in the area and the endorsement from majority of the local government units. In our timeline, we should get the approval by 2014,” Arnaldo said.
The $5.9-billion Tampakan project is estimated to contribute investments equivalent to one percent of the country’s gross domestic product, according to the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines.