BY ROGER M. BALANZA
Malacanang said it would study the appeal for reconsideration of Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI), whose Tampakan gold-copper project has been denied issuance of an environmental compliance certificate by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
The Palace move to study the appeal was expected to eventually lead to constitutional prohibition against South Cotabato’s ban on open pit mining, a major stumbling block to the SMI $5.9-billion Tampakan Project, the largest direct foreign investment in the Philippines today and backed by world copper producer Xstrata, that is set for commercial operation in 2016.
The Tampakan project is described as the largest undeveloped copper-gold reserve in Southeast Asia.
The South Cotabato provincial government has approved an Environmental Code that bans the open pit method of mining that SMI would use in its Tampakan project.
Open pit mining, however, is allowed by the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.
Another setback for the Environmental Code is Executive Order No. 79 recently issued by President Benigno Aquino which clarified that national laws, referring to the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, are over and above local ordinances, like the South Cotabato Environmental Code and its ban on open pit mining.
SMI has submitted a detailed appeal memorandum with the Office of the President appealing the denial of our mine area’s environmental compliance certificate (ECC), SMI corporate communications manager John B. Arnaldo said.
Our appeal outlines a clear case that the process for issuing ECCs under current national law should not be impeded by a conflicting provincial law, Arnaldo said.
Mark Williams, SMI general manager, said SMI filed the notice of appeal on June 29. “We will work with the EO 79 to strengthen the argument,” Williams said.
SMI’s notice of appeal has been submitted. The Office of the President through its legal team will study the matter, Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in a press briefing last week.
Lacierda did not commit to a timetable as to when the study would be completed but hinted it would have a positive impact on SMI.
He said that when Malacanang studies the SMI appeal, existing rules and laws, including the recently signed Executive Order (EO) 79, clarifying the country’s mining policies, would be considered in rendering of the decision.
Aquino’s EO was specific about national mining laws bigger in scope and authority than local government legislation.
Lacierda added though that the DENR has yet to transmit the entire records of the case for study.
It will be up to the Office of the President to look into the substance and the legal issues as well as the rules and laws and executive orders, including EO 79, surrounding issues on mining, said Lacierda.
Lacierda did not comment if the EO will guarantee a favorable decision for SMI.
But Environment Secretary Ramon Jesus P. Paje earlier said EO 79 aims to harmonize existing national and local laws.
Under EO 79, the Department of Interior and Local Government could talk to local government units to discuss existing issues, including SMI’s appeal to operate the Tampakan project.
Paje said that SMI’s latest plea could be viewed favorably with the issuance of EO 79.
SMI elevated its case to Malacanang after the DENR denied issuance of an ECC to its Tampakan project due to South Cotabato’s ban on open pit mining.
Straddling three provinces–South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Davao del Sur— the Tampakan mine has 2.4 billion metric tons of deposits, containing 13.5 million metric tons of copper and 15.8 million ounces of gold.
The project is expected to contribute P134 billion to the Philippines’ gross domestic product (GDP) each year.