The interagency working group (IAWG) tasked to address issues concerning the $5.9-billion Tampakan copper-gold project in Mindanao will submit its action plan to the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) by end of the month.
Leo Jasareno, director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), told reporters that the IAWG will submit the action plan on November 30 to the MICC, particularly on the recommendations on how to deal with indigenous people and other stakeholders to be affected by the mining project.
“Currently, the project still has no free prior and informed consent [FPIC] which is very important. Without the FPIC, we cannot approve the declaration of mining feasibility which means SMI [Sagittarius Mines Inc.] cannot proceed on the project construction,” Jasareno said.
“The problem is, there are a lot of tribes inside the area, so it is hard to get the consensus because some of them are pro and some of them are anti,” he said, adding that the IAWG is recommending the National Commission on Indigenous People to facilitate discussions.
Jasareno said that SMI, the proponent of what could be the Philippines’ biggest mining project to date, has to meet with all the tribes that will be affected by the operations, and present them with the programs of the company.
“Any tribe that will not give its consent, will mean that the land occupied by that tribe will be off limits to mining,” he said.
To recall, SMI had looked to the national government to resolve the open-pit mining ban issued by the South Cotabato provincial government, but a Palace directive, Executive Order (EO) 79, stopped short of breaking the impasse.
As a result, SMI said that it will scale down operations given the impasse over an open-pit mining ban imposed by a host local government unit, and delays in permit approvals by the government.
The company said that it would reduce current activity levels and expenditures on the project, which originally involved a $5.9-billion investment, a record high for the country if it pushes through.
SMI also said that the revised work plan calls for a 75-percent cut in expenditures to $1 million a month from the existing $4 million. In terms of personnel, the reduction would involve an 85-percent cut.
Agrarian reform issues
Meanwhile, Jasareno said that the IAWG would also facilitate the consultations with some 3,000 farmer-beneficiaries under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).
Under EO 79, which was signed by President Benigno Aquino 3rd in July 2013, all CARP-covered areas are closed to mining.
Jasareno, however, said that SMI can argue that it has a prior right on the project as its Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) was awarded before the Philippine Mining Act became a law.
“If you are given a CLOA [certificate of land ownership award], that area is close to mining. Not unless the school of thought that the prior right prevails, then the areas will not be covered by EO 79,” he said.
The company’s FTAA was issued in 1994, while the mining act became a law in 1995. The CLOAs were issued to the farmers between 2005 and 2008.
The MGB chief said that they are now looking at amending the implementing rules and regulation of the Mining Law to address the issue of “perpetual liability” stated in the company’s environmental compliance certificate (ECC).
“The Department of Justice earlier gave an opinion that the perpetual liability imposed in the ECC for Tampakan has no basis. They suggested amending the guidelines of the mining act to include perpetual liability,” he said.
Discovered in 1992, the Tampakan project is a 2.9-billion metric ton deposit, containing 15 million tons of copper and 18 million ounces of gold at a 0.2-percent cut-off grade.
The project proponents so far have spent at least US$500 million on exploration, studies and community programs.