GENERAL SANTOS CITY—Four Catholic bishops in Mindanao have asked President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to void the Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) granted to Sagittarius Mines, Inc., developer of the controversial Tampakan project, the largest untapped copper-gold minefield in Southeast Asia
Set to expire on March 21, 2020, the 25-year FTAA awarded to the Tampakan project had been extended for 12 years—or until March 21, 2032—in an order issued June 8, 2016.
MindaNews reported about this development in January 2020.
FTAA No. 002-95-XI was originally granted to Australian Firm Western Mining Corp. (WMC) on March 22, 1995. SMI acquired the FTAA from WMC in 2001 with the approval of Environment Secretary Heherson Alvarez.
The FTAA is subject to renewal for another 25 years, but long before its expiry, SMI sought and was granted a 12-year extension of the original FTAA, citing “force majeure,” a copy of the order obtained by MindaNews then showed.
Leo Jasareno, then national director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), an agency under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), approved the extension on June 8, 2016, “by authority of the secretary.” The environment secretary at the time was Ramon Paje.
A copy of the bishops’ petition to declare illegal SMI’s FTAA extension was filed with Malacañang on Wednesday. It was signed by Bishop Cerilo Casicas, Diocese of Marbel; Archbishop Angelito Lampon, Archdiocese of Cotabato; Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo, Diocese of Kidapawan; and Bishop Guillermo Afable, Diocese of Digos.
The prelates represent the communities that will be affected by the Tampakan project, which the company earlier estimated to cost an investment of at least $5.9 billion.
Their petition was subsequently submitted to the DENR, headed by Secretary Ma. Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga.
Together with their legal counsels from the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center (LRC), the church leaders argued that the extension of the FTAA by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) in 2020 was unconstitutional.
“We respectfully reiterate our demand to cancel the illegal extension of FTAA – 002 in favor of Sagittarius Mines, Inc. We respectfully believe that the extension of the FTAA (is) beyond the powers of the MGB, and the same must be declared void, especially as the mining operations will impact critical environmental areas,” Casicas said in a statement.
Atty. Rolly Peoro, Direct Legal Services Coordinator of LRC, said the Tampakan FTAA “has definitively lapsed, and SMI should have thus undergone consultations, environmental impact assessment, and other regulatory compliances for renewal.”
“These safeguards are there to ensure that the utilization of our natural resources is held accountable to the highest office and therefore highest regulatory scrutiny,” Peoro said.
The petitioners elaborated that SMI’s claim of force majeure as the basis for requiring extension was unfounded.
The acts cited as constituting force majeure, such as legal and tenurial conflicts, the open pit mine ban, and civil disturbances, among others, are all forms of assertions of rights that can be duly exercised vis-a-vis the course of the project, the petition said.
Addressing Marcos, Casicas said, “This constitutional power was exclusively lodged to your office, as the President, being the father of the nation, is entrusted to represent the best interests of the Filipino people. May your guidance and leadership of our country be blessed upon by our shared faith to protect the environment.”
MindaNews sought an SMI official for comments but have yet to respond as of posting.
On its website, SMI reposted a BusinessWorld report that it targets to go full-swing operations in 2026. Several other national media outlets came out with a similar report.
In an SMI study, the mining company noted that the most viable method to extract the shallow mineral deposits is through open-pit mining, which has been banned by the South Cotabato provincial government since 2010.
SMI revealed that the Tampakan project has the potential to yield an average of 375,000 metric tons of copper and 360,000 ounces of gold per annum in the expected 17-year life of the mine.
Once developed, it has the potential to be a key driver of national and regional growth as well as socio-economic development for its host communities, the firm said on its website.
In a mining forum at the Notre Dame of Marbel University in Koronadal City in September 2019, Casicas urged the national government to refrain from renewing the FTAA of SMI for another 25 years.
In that forum, Casicas pledged to sustain the opposition spearheaded by his predecessor, the late Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez, against SMI.
Casicas deplored the Tampakan project, a venture which, according to him, “even God will not approve,” considering its impact on the environment, Indigenous Peoples, and other residents who will be affected.
Vowing to sustain the local Catholic church’s resistance against open-pit mining, Casicas stressed: “God created humans to protect the environment.” (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)