Philippine regulator recommends ending suspension on Tampakan copper-gold project

By Enrico Dela Cruz

MANILA, Oct 24 (Reuters) - The Philippine mining regulator has recommended lifting a three-year suspension of the environmental permit for what could be one of the world's largest copper mines, although other issues are also holding up development of the Tampakan project.

The environmental compliance certificate (ECC) for the Tampakan copper-gold project has been suspended by the environment department since 2016. The project is also held up by a ban on open-pit mining in place since 2010 in South Cotabato province on the southern island of Mindanao.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) issued the permit suspension, at the time under the supervision of a staunch environmentalist - the late Gina Lopez - who had described Tampakan as "a 700-football field open-pit mine on ... agricultural lands, affecting four provinces and six rivers."

Lopez, who was environment minister from July 2016 until May 2017, strongly opposed open-pit mining and ordered dozens of the country's mines shut or suspended for environmental violations.

Tampakan, the biggest stalled mining project in the Philippines, in which commodities giant Glencore GLEN.L previously had a controlling stake, has estimated resources of 15 million tonnes of copper and 17.6 million ounces of gold.

Investment to develop the mine has been estimated at $5.9 billion. Philippine miner Sagittarius Mines Inc, which holds the concession for the Tampakan project, spent at least $500 million on pre-development work prior to the suspension in 2016, according to the government.

The mining regulator, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), together with the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), now see no need to keep the environmental permit suspended.

"The MGB and EMB have recommended to lift the suspension, but there is no timeline," MGB Director Wilfredo Moncano told Reuters on Thursday.

Sagittarius officials did not immediately respond to Reuters request for comment.

Mining is a contentious issue in the Philippines after past environmental mismanagement by miners. President Rodrigo Duterte, who is against open-pit mining, has repeatedly warned miners to follow tighter environmental rules or shut down.

(Reporting by Enrico Dela Cruz; Editing By Tom Hogue)


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