As gold shines through the Corona-virus pandemic, touching new highs as a precious metal hedge to the dollar, the stakes for Southeast Asia’s largest undeveloped copper and gold minefield have never been higher.
Nestled 1,300 meters above sea level, huge gold and copper deposits lie untapped in the mountains surrounding the sleepy Philippine town of Tampakan on the southern island of Mindanao.
Over three decades since the deep, rich deposits were first discovered, controversy still burns over who has the right to mine and profit from the precious metals, pitting central government agencies and their corporate concessionaires against local tribal communities.
Over the years, the center-versus-periphery struggle has often devolved into violence and even death, and the prospect for more bloody turmoil is on the rise in line with the surging price of gold, now at well over US$2,000 per ounce on global markets.
Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI), developer of the mammoth S5.9 billion Tampakan copper-gold project in South Cotabato, has “reacquired” its environmental compliance certificate (ECC), one of the requirements needed to proceed to the commercial production phase.
Omar Saikol, Environmental Management Bureau – Region 12 (EMB-12) director, said the ECC of SMI, which the late Environment Secretary Gina Lopez canceled on February 14, 2017, has been restored by the Office of the President (OP) on May 6, 2019.
Saikol said that SMI was originally granted the ECC by the EMB main office on February 19, 2013. The firm needs to secure an ECC because its proposed mining operation falls under the environmentally critical project category.
SMI had announced that open-pit mining is the most viable method to extract the massive deposits for the Tampakan project, so named because the minefield is located in Tampakan, South Cotabato.
Touted as Southeast Asia’s largest known undeveloped copper and gold minefield, the Tampakan project has the potential to yield an average of 375,000 tons of copper and 360,000 ounces of gold in concentrate per annum in the 17-year-life of the mine.
The national government granted SMI a 25-year Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) that was to expire on March 21, 2020.
The Tampakan project has been facing opposition from the local Catholic Church and environment groups.
Marbel Bishop Cerilo Casicas vowed to sustain the local Catholic church’s opposition against the Tampakan project on concerns over the environment, food security and human rights.
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.
Asia Times / Minda News 2020.