SMI dealt another blow
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SMI dealt another blow

Mining firm Sagittarius Mines Inc. suffered another setback when the Environment Management Bureau denied its appeal to have an earlier decision overturned, derailing further its target commercial production date.

In a decision handed down on May 22, 2012 but only released last week, the legal department of the environment bureau stood pat in its decision to deny SMI the required environmental clearance certificate (ECC) citing the Provincial Environment Code of South Cotabato which bans open pit mining method.

Environment secretary Ramon Jesus Paje said the ordinance must first be repealed or amended before his office could issue an ECC.

The ordinance raises constitutional issue as the country’s existing mining law is silent on open pit mining method.

Republic Act No. 7160 or the 1991 Local Government Code of the Philippines however empowers local government units to impose statutory limitations to protect the environment covered by its territory.

In 2010, then South Cotabato Gov. Daisy Avance-Fuentes signed the ordinance banning open pit mining in the province.

Current provincial governor Arthur Pingoy said the provincial board is not inclined to repeal or amend the ordinance.  Until it is recalled, the governor said he will implement all its provisions, including denying permits to mining companies that will employ open pit mining method.

Last week, SMI invited members of the press to and stakeholders to a presentation of its sustainability report for 2011.

In a video and power point presentation, SMI still expressed hope that the EMB will reverse its earlier decision.

“The denial decision was not made on the merits of our mine EIS, which fully complies with the requirements of the EMB’s own ECC process and is backed by a world-class EIA,” SMI president Peter Forrestal said in his 80-page report.

Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) director Leo L. Jasareno said company’s “most available remedy under the law” now would file an appeal to the Office of the President.

SMI has so far avoided bringing the issue to the Supreme Court.

Last week, however, SMI general manager for external affairs Mark Williams said the company is considering bringing the matter to court.

The Xstrata Plc-controlled SMI owns the Tampakan Copper and Gold Project reputed to be Asia’s biggest untapped deposits of copper and gold.  It plans to pour in US$5.9 billion to extract ore deposits that is said to have a mining life of at least 20 years.

It will reportedly generate revenues of up to $37 billion during its entire 20 mine life.

According to its original target, SMI plans to go on commercial production in 2016.

Strong opposition from the local Catholic Church and environment groups, coupled with its recent legal setbacks, is putting SMI operations in jeopardy.