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DENR set to issue ECC to start $5.9-billion Tampakan operations

THINGS are looking brighter for Sagittarius Mining Inc (SMI). The Department of Environment and Natural Resources, after twice denying SMI’s application for an environmental compliance certificate (ECC), now appears on the verge of flashing the green light for it to start its $5.9-billion Tampakan copper-gold project in Southern Mindanao.

Environment Secretary Ramon J.P. Paje told the BusinessMirror in a telephone interview the department was currently doing another review of SMI’s application for the issuance of ECC after this was tossed back to it by Malacañang on January 31.

“We will come up with a decision and act on Malacañang’s directive within the prescribed period,” Paje said.

According to him, the process involves another review of the pertinent documents, such as the order from Malacañang remanding SMI’s motion for reconsideration of its ECC application, the latest DOJ opinion issued by Secretary Leila de Lima, the statements of Interior Secretary Mar Roxas concerning conflicts on national and local mining laws, and the instruction of the Mining Industry coordinating Council  “endorsing” the issuance of the ECC to SMI.

All these “lean favorably for the issuance of an ECC to SMI,” a report indicated.

“The DOJ is our legal counsel.  Definitely we will follow its opinion,” Paje said. “Definitely, we will act on it.  We were given 15 days within which to act on it but we need to review it [SMI’s application for ECC and accompanying documents] first,” he said.

Paje said the local ordinance banning open-pit mining in South Cotabato where the company intends to operate using open-pit mining method, would be considered. 

But he also said the DOJ opinion that the ECC may be granted to SMI’s Tampakan project despite the open-pit ban would be a big factor.

The ban on open-pit mining in South Cotabato was cited by the Environmental Management Bureau in denying the SMI’s application for the second time last year. This prompted the company to file a motion before President Aquino.

The ban on open-pit mining was approved by local officials because of its destructive nature.  To extract copper and gold ores, mining firms would have destroy forests, literally level to the ground a mountain, and dig further down to reach the buried precious metals.

Environmental groups said such mining process would adversely impact on the people and the environment in the long term. 

But SMI gave assurances that it was “deeply committed to upholding and promoting the rights of local communities hosting our Tampakan project.”

Tampakan would be the biggest mining project ever to be launched in the Philippines.  Company officials said the project would have an impact of additional 1 percent to the country’s gross domestic product.

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