WHAT could be the largest copper-gold project in the Philippines to date may not see development any time soon after Environment Secretary Regina Paz Lopez vowed to “shut it down” even before the project could start.
Lopez is directly pitting herself against a known ally of President Rodrigo Duterte and the business empire of the Philippines’ richest man, Henry Sy, which already has a stake in the $5.6-billion Tampakan copper-gold project.
“I really don’t like Tampakan at all. Why do we even consider it? No Tampakan operations under my term,” Lopez stressed during a Meet the Beat event in Quezon City.
The DENR chief said that she is directly opposing the project’s proposed open-pit mining operations, about the size of 700 football fields, which would directly affect the livelihood of poor farmers and put the lives of people at risk.
“We will review everything. There’s no way that I would ever, ever allow open pit mine on top of agricultural land. It’s immoral and it’s socially unjust to allow companies to put the lives of all the farmers and indigenous people at risk,” Lopez said.
Tampakan, which involves one of the world’s largest undeveloped copper-gold deposits, straddles four provinces in Mindanao –South Cotabato, Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat and Davao del Sur.
Sagittarius Mines Inc. is the local contractor of the Tampakan project on behalf of an affiliate of Australian firm Indophil Resources NL, owned by Alsons Prime Investments Corp. of the Alcantara group.
The Sy-led group, through its banking unit Banco De Oro (BDO), also owns a minority stake in SMI. The SM group, owner of the country’s largest chain of shopping malls, was assigned a seat in the seven-man Indophil board by Alsons.
Besides developing the mine, Alsons Consolidated Resources Inc. is also interested in building a 400-megawatt power plant that will power the copper-gold project.
Alsons Energy Development Corp., a unit of Alsons Consolidated, was selected by SMI as the preferred power generation supplier of the Tampakan mine.
Alsons Energy earlier proposed put up an $892-million dedicated coal-fired power plant to support the power needs of the Tampakan mining project.
Last year, SMI secured majority local government endorsement for the project, which is one of main requirements in getting approval for its Declaration of Mining Project Feasibility (DMPF).
Under the Mining Act of 1995, a mining company should have the endorsement of the majority of LGUs or local government units to secure government approval for its DMPF.
DMPF – which includes a proponent’s final rehabilitation plan for the venture and an environmental protection and enhancement program, among others – is the final requirement for a mining company to commence development of a project.
Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) director Leo Jasareno said that South Cotobato was the only remaining LGU or local government unit that has yet to endorse the project because of its current ban on open-pit mining as prescribed by its Environment Code.
“The ban is still in place. But the Philippine Mining Act only requires majority LGU endorsement, which SMI has already complied with. So as far as the rules are concerned, they have already met it,” he reiterated.
He said that SMI will also have to address the issue with the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) over the cancellation of Certificate of Land Ownership Awards (CLOAs) issued to five groups of beneficiaries under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).
The existence of CLOAs issued to CARP beneficiaries within the proposed Tampakan mine site is one of four major issues hounding the $5.9-billion Tampakan copper-gold project.
DAR had issued a five collective CLOAs involving properties within the mining tenement in May and July 2008.These CLOAs cover around 3,921 hectares in five different barangays in Tampakan, South Cotabato, the area where SMI intends to operate its open-pit mine to extract copper and gold ores.
Tampakan is estimated to have 15 million tons of contained copper and nearly 18 million ounces of gold. The total tax and royalty revenue to the Philippines over the 20-year life of the project is estimated at P346 billion or $7.2 billion.