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After provincial open pit mining ban lifted

Regulators vow strict oversight of Tampakan mine

As South Cotabato lifted the provincial ban on open pit mining, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) vowed to strictly monitor the Tampakan copper-gold project once its development resumes.

Earlier, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of South Cotabato reversed the moratorium on open pit mining, clearing Sagittarius Mines Inc.’s (SMI) last hurdle to finally proceed with its stalled $5.9-billion project and subsequently, the commercial extraction of minerals.

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In a statement, acting Environment Secretary Jim Sampulna said the DENR will see to it that SMI will comply with its environmental protection and rehabilitation obligations.

SMI will also be required to invest in equipment and manpower “to ensure mitigation in case of any adverse impacts from the mining operation.”

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“The environment will not be sacrificed. We will see to it that the soon-to-commence Tampakan copper-gold project will be strictly monitored in compliance with applicable mining and environmental laws, rules and regulations,” added Sampulna.

The Tampakan mine is touted as one of the largest untapped copper and gold mines in Southeast Asia and among the biggest of its kind worldwide. It has the potential to yield an average of 375,000 tonnes per annum of copper and 360,000 ounces per annum of gold in concentrate throughout its expected 17-year life.

The project, covering an area of approximately 10,000 hectares, is situated between the towns of Tampakan, South Cotabato, and Kiblawan, Davao del Sur, in southern Mindanao.

The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) lauded the decision of South Cotabato’s local government, saying this would help revive the mining industry and the entire country overcome the adverse economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

Citing estimates, COMP said the Tampakan, Silangan and Kingking mining projects are expected to increase the national government revenues by P12 billion a year, local government revenues by P1.5 billion, exports by almost $2 billion, and social expenditures by close to P800 million per year.

Tampakan alone could generate P68 billion in national taxes and P4 billion in local taxes for the first 10 years of operation while royalties for indigenous peoples are estimated at P4.8 billion.

On top of that, the host communities will benefit from the social development and management program pegged at P2.6 billion.

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“Together with Silangan and Kingking – two other copper-gold projects in Mindanao – Tampakan would be a powerful vehicle to achieve a vibrant, multi-faceted local and regional economy that provides sustainable employment, business opportunities and access to education, health, infrastructure, and other social development programs that will improve and enhance the quality of life of those living in these projects’ host and neighboring communities, including their children,” said COMP chair Michael Toledo.

“The Tampakan project will be an essential post-pandemic economic recovery tool whose actual and potential benefits far outweigh the potential negative impacts,” he said. “We believe no other sector is likely to provide a more responsible and sustainable alternative.”

COMP said open pit mining — the primary method of minerals extraction used by thousands of mines worldwide — can be operated safely in adherence to globally accepted standards.

Open pit mines “can be rehabilitated properly in a manner that provides alternative and productive land use after the life of mine.”

For its part, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) shall conduct quarterly environmental monitoring and audit SMI’s operation to ensure it observes environmental laws.

It will convene the Mine Rehabilitation Fund Committee to supervise the management and utilization of the funds for the firm’s environmental protection and enhancement program, progressive rehabilitation and social development through livelihood activities for residents living close to the mine site.

MGB chief Wilfredo Moncano said SMI had already fulfilled all the other major requirements for the Tampakan project, including the environmental compliance certificate and the certification precondition from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples after the free and prior informed consent process was undertaken and memorandum of agreement was signed by the company and the indigenous peoples.

Nonetheless, Moncano assured that there are existing modern technologies that can address the potential environmental impact of the mining operations.

“We also have the DENR policy that requires mining companies to provide funds in all stages of the mining operation necessary for environmental protection and enhancement,” he said. INQ

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