DAVAO CITY—Xstrata’s Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) might finally be able to secure an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) but it could still not operate as the mining company has to comply with other requirements, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said here last week.
Paje told reporters here late Tuesday that a review of SMI’s application for ECC, which the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) had earlier trashed, was ordered by Malacañang and the decision could be issued anytime.
SMI, which took over the entire proposed mining area of Australian firm Western Mining Corp. in South Cotabato, Davao del Sur and Sultan Kudarat provinces a few years ago, had struggled hard to secure an ECC over its $5.9-billion copper and gold project.
Also, the South Cotabato provincial government passed an environment code that outlawed open-pit mining and other destructive methods in the province.
This was the same basis for the DENR’s decision to reject the ECC application, Paje said.
SMI has thrice moved its target date for the start of commercial operations to 2019 because of its failure to have the South Cotabato ban overturned and to secure an ECC.
Paje said SMI’s petition for ECC would be acted upon based on recommendation of the Malacañang-led Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC).
He said the MICC, which he cochairs, had made the recommendation based on the concerns of the Department of Finance about projected losses in investments and revenues if SMI leaves.
Malacañang, he said, has subsequently ordered the DENR to review SMI’s application but he would not categorically say if it would get a favorable decision.
Paje instead said the DENR’s imminent decision on SMI’s ECC application would be based on existing laws, including the legal opinion issued by the Department of Justice (DOJ) that the South Cotabato ban on open-pit mining was against the Philippine Mining Act.
“We were just trying to be cautious because there was a ban but the DOJ has a very strong opinion also,” he said.
The South Cotabato government said it had no plan to amend the provincial environment code unless a court declares it unlawful.
Paje said if an ECC is granted, SMI still has to obtain four other permits before it could begin operations. These include free, prior and informed consent from the occupants of the ancestral domain; land access permits from the Department of Agrarian Reform; endorsements from local government units; and approval of its declaration of mining project feasibility. Orlando Dinoy, Inquirer Mindanao