By Vincent Mariel P. Galang, Reporter

WHILE the environmental compliance certificate of the Tampakan copper-gold mine has been reinstated, the project will still face hurdles, such as the open-pit mining ban in South Cotabato.

Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) Director Wilfredo G. Moncano told BusinessWorld that Sagittarius Mines, Inc. [SMI], which holds the concession for the Tampakan project, has already secured the reinstatement of its ECC from Malacañang.

“The DENR [Department of Environment and Natural Resources] MGB has recommended the lifting of the suspension of the ECC of SMI. Our latest information is that SMI has already secured the reinstatement of the ECC from the Office of the President, so ibig sabihin yung aming [this means our] recommendation was considered by the Office of the President,” he said in a phone interview.

The development of Tampakan, touted as one of the largest gold prospects in the world, was stalled after the South Cotabato provincial government banned open-pit mining in 2010.

In 2017, the DENR, under then-Environment Secretary Regina L. Lopez, cancelled Tampakan’s ECC and 74 other mining contracts in watershed areas.

“Ang magiging pinaka-issue na lang doon [The main issue left] will be the Provincial Ordinance, yung sa [the] open-pit mining ban sa [in] South Cotabato. Iyon na lang ang pinaka-issue doon [That is the only issue there],” Mr. Moncano said.

“Kung maresolve [If this will be resolved] in favor of SMI, then pwede na silang mag-resume [then they can resume] because all the documentary requirements…. so lahat ng [all] permits, mga programs approved na ng MGB, so wala na dapat problema [there should not be a problem anymore],” he added.

Prior to its suspension, SMI was able to secure a declaration of mining feasibility and was a few steps to start its operations.

Mr. Moncano said SMI has already decided to reduce its production target as a away to address some of the issues raised by its detractors.

The mine site contains about 15 million tons of copper and 17.6 million ounces of gold. This covers around 10,000 hectares covering municipalities in South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Davao del Sur, and Sarangani.

It is projected to produce 375,000 tons of copper and 360,000 ounces of gold annually in its initial mine life.

Mr. Moncano said that as of the explored area of the site, it already has an estimated mine life of 32 years, which can still be extended.

“Isa kasi sa mga problema noong una, ang laki ng [One of the problems is its large-scale] operation noon. SMI has now reduced the footprint, production target, which means lumiit na rin yung magiging [it already reduced its] footprint ng minahan,” he said.

Mr. Moncano said SMI may be able to start mining operations next year, but this will depend on the court handling the petition seeking to lift the ban on open-pit mining in South Cotabato.