OP restores ECC for $5.9-B Tampakan project

The “700-football field open-pit mine” in Tampakan, South Cotabato that former Environment Secretary and late Regina Paz Lopez tried to stop already got back its environmental clearance, thanks to the Office of the President (OP).

Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) Director Wilfredo Moncano said in a text exchange that OP already restored the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) of the $5.9-billion Tampakan copper-gold mining project of Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI), which could become one of the largest copper mines in the world.

This is three years after Lopez, citing environmental concerns, cancelled the ECC of the project.
"It's a 700-football field open-pit mine on top of rice fields and agricultural lands affecting four provinces and six rivers. Why do we even consider it? I don't like it at all," Lopez said at that time.

Her pronouncements led to the biggest foreign divestment ever recorded in the Philippines when Anglo-Swiss mining giant Glencore plc decided to exit the project.

Moncano said that OP’s latest decision came months after the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), based on the endorsement of MGB and Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), recommended the reinstatement of the ECC.

The MGB and EMB endorsement, he said, was made on the basis that Tampakan’s ECC, in contrast with

OP’s claims, has not yet expired and could therefore be given back to the company.

“As far as I can remember the issue raised by OP was that the ECC has lapsed because it was issued I

think in 2013 but until the present there was no mining operation conducted. Under EMB rules, if five years have elapsed from the issuance of the ECC but the proponent has not done any development or mining- related work in the area covered by the ECC, the ECC is no longer valid,” Moncano said.

“Our regional offices of MGB and EMB attested that except for mining development works, the company has continued some exploration works, environmental protection activities, the FPIC , and many social development works in the area. These activities are still covered by the ECC conditions, and therefore the company having conducted all those activities, its ECC has not lapsed,” he added.

Moncano also clarified that Tampakan’s Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA), a contract that allows a foreign-owned mining firm to operate in the Philippines as well as explore and utilize the country’s mineral resources, has been extended until 2032.

“It was extended because of Force Majeure. The Force Majeure was the legal case that was raised and decided by the SC on the issue of the constitutionality of the FTAA, which was decided in favor of the mining company, plus the adverse government action against the company by the former DENR Secretary in 2017,” Moncano further said.

The Tampakan project is now the largest stalled mining venture in the country, which has been put on hold since 2010 after the local government unit (LGU) of South Cotabato banned open-pit mining in the province.

The said ban is now the “only obstacle” for the project, Moncano said.

If developed, the Tampakan project “has the potential to make a significant contribution to the economic prosperity of the Philippines and enable a better future for the people of southern Mindanao,” SMI said on its website.  

Anti-mining groups like Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) opposed this, saying the project could have an adverse impact on the environment and the community around the massive mine site. 

“Obviously, the MGB and DENR are promoting the mining industry by disregarding the still existent rules and regulations within DENR itself. Roy Cimatu must also ensure that MGB and other bureaus within DENR are complying with all environmental laws and all other national laws that are related to local environmental governance,” ATM National Coordinator Jaybee Garganera.