LGU terminates agreement with Sagittarius Mines

Published August 16, 2020, 9:00 PM

by Madelaine B. Miraflor

Pursuing the $5.9-billion copper-gold mining project, which could be one of the largest copper mines in the world, is becoming a case of ‘one step forward, two steps back’ for Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI).

 This, after the Sangguniang Bayan (SB) of the Municipality of Tampakan suddenly terminated its municipal principal agreement with SMI, a month after the latter got back its Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) for the project.

Based on the minutes of their meeting, Tampakan SB, composed of eight members, moved to terminate the 2009 Municipal Principal Agreement (MPA) executed by and between the local government of Tampakan and SMI.

This was decided upon during the regular session of the 16th Sanggunian held on August 10 at the SB Session Hall, Tampakan, South Cotobato, which was attended by all SB members as well as the Liga President and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) Federation President.

SB is the local legislative branch of municipal governments responsible for passing ordinances and resolutions for the administration of a municipality.

 According to Tampakan SB, there are provisions that are “considered vague, disadvantageous to inhabitants of Tampakan and unduly tie the hands of the Local Government of Tampakan as parens patriae to protect its people and the environment”.

“As such, the LGU [local government unit] cannot sit and fold its arms not to intervene in any action initiated by its people if indeed, their rights have been violated contrary to some provisions of the Agreement,” they stated.  

Based on the original MPA, there should be a review of the agreement every four years to cope “with the demands and call of present times” but Tampakan SB said the Local Government of Tampakan is no longer interested in conducting any review or updating of the MPA. 
However, the Municipality is open for the creation or formulation of a new agreement.

 In a text exchange, Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) Director Wilfredo Moncano said he will encourage SMI to initiate dialogue with the LGU of Tampakan on hopes of coming up with an agreement  to “support the development and realization of the potential of this project.”

“Everything can be settled by talking and calm dialogue,” Moncano said. “Perhaps in the assessment of the LGU, there may be terms in the principal agreement that need to be modified because it is outdated given that the document was executed several years ago. That’s how long this mining project has been gestating.”

Despite this development, Moncano still thinks this project, described by former Environment Secretary Regina Paz Lopez as a “700-football field open-pit mine” could finally start at least before the end of the Duterte administration.

For its part, environmental advocacy group Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) welcomed the decision of Tampakan SB, led by Tampakan Vice Mayor John Mark Baldon, to exercise “the spirit and substance of local autonomy in ensuring the general welfare as well as ensuring a safe and sound environment of their constituents.”

“The people of Tampakan and the Bla’an indigenous communities affected deserve to be heard in their rejection of this massive and potentially destructive mining project. This resolution should be a clear signal to DENR [Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to explain why FTAA [Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement] was given an extension without undergoing the proper and legal procedures,” ATM said.

 To recall, Tampakan’s 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, was extended up to 2032.

MGB, an attached agency to the DENR, said it was extended because of Force Majeure.

“The Force Majeure was the legal case that was raised and decided by the SC [Supreme Court] 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 said earlier.

 The extension, however, was perceived by ATM as a “midnight mining deal” that was done without the knowledge of the affected stakeholders, including the LGUs, farmers and indigenous peoples in Tampakan.

“The Office of the President must immediately order an executive review of the Tampakan mining contract. We remind President Duterte that he has promised to ban open-pit mining and that he will not allow mining to destroy our rivers and environment. This promise has been elusive for far too long. We challenge President Duterte to listen to his constituents and to be true to his word. He must terminate this FTAA as soon as possible,” ATM said.

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

 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.