Despite ongoing delays, the US $5.9 billion Tampakan Copper-Gold Project in Southern Mindanao remains a priority mining project of the Aquino Government in the Philippines. “That is why we [at the Mining Industry Coordinating Council] (MICC) created the inter-agency working group to solve the problem,” Philippines' environment secretary Ramon Paje said during a recent press conference.
He added that there are already recommendations which the MICC will act on major stumbling blocks that cause the flagship mining project of the Aquino administration to be delayed when it meets in January.
He said a major issue hounding the project was the presence of farmers with Certificate of Land Ownership Awards (Cloas) within the 10,000-hectare mining tenement of Sagittarius Mines Inc (SMI), the operator of the multi billion peso project. Five collective Cloas were issued to beneficiaries of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), the program’s lead implementing agency, making portions of that land ‘agricultural’ and subsequently, ‘off limits’ to mining.
Agrarian Reform undersecretary for Legal Affairs Anthony Parungao earlier said that four of the five collective Cloas are now the subject of a petition for reversal. The petition for cancellation of Cloas covering a total of 1445 farmer-beneficiaries and 3921 hectares, all of which are in Tampakan, South Cotabato, where SMI intends to operate its open-pit mine, has been filed.
Covered by the petitions are Cloas issued to a group, led by Ric Magbanua, with 343 beneficiaries covering more than 8 million square metres in barangays Danlag and Tablu; Pruto M Sebua, with a total of 196 beneficiaries covering more than 5.823 million square metres in Barangay Pula-Bato; Dalena M Samling, with 118 beneficiaries covering more than 3.479 square metres in Barangay Danlag; Gloria Magbanua, with 491 beneficiaries covering more than 13.252 million square metres in Barangay Tablu; and Rogelito E Restura Sr, covering a total of 297 beneficiaries and more than 8.431 million square metres in barangays Lampital and Albagan.
The petition was initially filed by the Danlag Tribal Council, a council of indigenous peoples’ tribe in the area on September 7, 2011. It was later amended on May 29 to comply with the requirements of DAR Administrative Order (AO) 6, Series of 2011. The DAR is expected to come up with a decision on the petition also in 2014.
If the petition for reversal is granted, the Cloas issued to the farmers will be nullified and the land will revert back to its former classification - in the case of Tampakan - forest lands covered by four different Certificate of Ancestral Domain Titles. This will allow the proponents of the Tampakan Copper-Gold Project a step closer to clearing the road for the implementation of the project.
Another major issue hounding the project is the existence of an Environmental Code passed by the South Cotabato provincial government, which prohibits open-pit mining method in the province.
Ramon Paje said the government maintains that local laws should be consistent with national laws. The Philippine Mining Act of 1995 allows open-pit mining method, considered by big mining corporations as the safest and fastest way to extract precious metals.