Friday, November 4, 2011

Australia mining aid for PH questioned

Melbourne, Australia – Filipino and Australian organizations criticized Prime Minister Julia Gillard for launching a $127 million ‘smart aid’ for poor but mineral-rich nations during a forum at the University of Melbourne.

Recently, the Gillard government has launched ‘Mining for Development Initiative’ which aims to help more than 30 developing countries, including the Philippines, address mining related challenges, including everything from managing environmental impacts of mining to governance issues.

Mining Action Philippines – Australia (MAP-Oz), a mining watchdog composed of various Filipino and Australian citizens and organizations including Friends of the Earth and Haribon Foundation, said that the initiative will not really address the emerging issues on mining in the Philippines such as extra-judicial killings, human rights violations, indigenous land grabbing, environmental destruction and corruption.

“While the main aid for the Philippines is for scholarships and trainings either in the country or in Australia, we cannot deny the fact that there are a lot of conflicting mining issues and policies which should be addressed by both the government and the mining industry. The Gillard government should think twice in granting aids to a country where issues are not solved and wrongly addressed,” MAP-Oz declared in its statement.

There are at least 11 Australian mining companies in the Philippines with licenses to operate and explore including OceanaGold, Xstrata, Indophil, Central Gold Asia, Pelican Resources and Mindoro Resources Limited.

Earlier this year, the highest human rights body in the Philippines released a statement, following a lengthy process of investigating community claims, saying that its findings confirmed Australian mining company OceanaGold had committed gross violations of human rights against the people of the remote and mountainous area of the Philippines, Nueva Vizcaya, including illegal and violent demotion of 187 houses.

Jubilee Australia executive director Adele Webb claimed that the ʻProtect, Respect and Remedyʼ Framework of UN Special Representative Professor John Ruggie, endorsed by Australia as member of the UN Human Rights Council this year, makes it clear that states have a duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties including business enterprises, through appropriate policies, regulation, and adjudication.

‘Yet the Australia government gives companies no authoritative guidance on how to avoid negative affects in their operations overseas, and there exists no accountability and enforcement mechanisms when such breaches occur and while there is much patting on the back about joint industry and Australian aid funded scholarship programs in countries like the Philippines, there is an eerie silence about what remote indigenous communities are facing on the ground,’ lamented Webb.

Meanwhile, MAP-Oz convener Alyansa Tigil Mina, a Philippine-based alliance with more than 90 mining affected community organizations and support groups, exposed that a large mine owned by Australia-based Xstrata Copper and Indophil Resources NL will soon be opened in Mindanao region which has the largest underdeveloped copper-gold deposit in Southeast Asia. However, the local government of South Cotabato had banned open pit mining in the province and the mining company is presently pressuring the national government and the local officials to lift the ban.

According to technical studies of the mining company, the mines will cause extensive disturbance of almost 10,000 hectares of forest lands, which serve as watersheds of South Cotabato and other three Mindanao provinces and will cut down 4,000 hectares of forests including old growth forests, which are initial components of the protected areas system. It will also displace more than 2,600 people belonging to the B’laan indigenous community.

“With the recent approval of deploying mining militia; and emerging issues on human rights violations, environmental destruction, inequitable tax share and questionable mining licenses; is the Philippines ready for Australia’s ‘smart aid’? Are the Australian people ready to share and participate in the ongoing history of Philippine mining?” Alyansa Tigil Mina statement declared.

Members of MAP-Oz are re-echoing the call of Philippine civil society movements, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), The Uniited Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) for the revocation of Philippine Executive Order 270-A which liberalizes the mining industry, scrapping of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 and the passage of alternative minerals management bills lodged in the House of Representatives which will lead to a human rights-centered law, establishment of mining no go zones and respect of indigenous peoples rights.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Murder of Fr. Tentorio may be related to his anti-mining advocacy

MANILA, Philippines—The group tasked to investigate the murder of Italian priest Fr. Fausto Tentorio—Special Investigation Task Group Fausto or SITG Fausto—was looking into several motives of the still-unknown motorcycle-riding suspects, said Philippine National Police spokesperson Chief Superintendent Agrimero Cruz Jr. on Tuesday.

He said they were verifying information on the threats Tentorio has received prior to the incident.

The PNP spokesman declined to reveal the motives being considered by SITG Fausto but admitted that one of the motives being checked by authorities was Tentorio’s being “vocal about mining” in the area.

It was however “still too early” to speculate on which motive may have drove the gunmen to end Tentorio’s life and SITG Fausto was “not ruling out other motives,” said the PNP spokesperson.
He said SITG Fausto started gathering information and physical evidence on Monday. It has also found some witnesses.

Authorities, however, still have to check whether a description of the gunman could be formed based on the witnesses’ accounts, added Cruz.

Cruz revealed that local chief executives were meeting with SITG Fausto commander Chief Superintendent Lester Camba to ensure a systematized investigation on the case.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Italian missionary’s slay shocks Church, Lone gunman kills priest near convent

ARAKAN, North Cotabato—Eight years ago, he eluded anticommunist gunmen by hiding inside a small cabinet made of bamboo. On Monday, a lone assassin with a gun equipped with a silencer shot him eight times as he was getting into his pickup truck outside a convent.

In a broad daylight murder that stunned members of the Roman Catholic Church, as well as government officials, Italian missionary Fr. Fausto Tentorio—fondly known as “Father Pops”—was gunned down in a church compound in Arakan town while a flag-raising ceremony was going on nearby.

The gunman, wearing a crash helmet, casually walked to a motorcycle waiting near the Mother of Perpetual Help church compound and sped away with a companion, witnesses said.

Tentorio, 59, was declared dead at the hospital—the third Italian priest and the third member of the Vatican-run Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) to have been killed in Mindanao in the past 26 years.

He had been working as a missionary in Mindanao for more than three decades.

Sources at the PIME said Tentorio had been receiving death threats from some groups since two years ago, prompting him at one point, when he was out of the country, to postpone his return to the Philippines for a few months.

Malacañang, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and members of the Roman Catholic Church in the country condemned the murder. The Department of Justice also ordered an immediate investigation.

Police said among those they would interview were Tentorio’s colleagues and other possible witnesses, including teachers at a preschool within the church compound who were at a flag-raising ceremony when the attack took place.

Tentorio was about to board his pickup at around 7:30 a.m. to attend a meeting of the clergy in the capital city of Kidapawan, 30 kilometers away, when the gunman approached him and fired, according to Arakan Councilor Leonardo Reovoca, a former parish worker.

Tentorio suffered eight bullet wounds from a gun of still unknown caliber.

Pastorally active

“I rushed to where he was and I saw him on the ground, blood oozing from his body,” Reovoca said.

The town councilor said he spoke with Tentorio on Sunday night and saw “nothing unusual” about him. “I cannot think of any reason why he should die this way,” Reovoca said in a radio interview.

Tentorio was a staunch antimining advocate since he started his parish work in Arakan, Reovoca said, adding that the Italian priest opposed “projects which are unsustainable and would harm the indigenous peoples.”

Fr. Giulio Mariani, a spokesperson for PIME’s regional diocese, said Tentorio arrived in the Philippines in 1978, a year after being ordained in Italy.

He said Tentorio had dedicated his life to helping local tribesmen and other disadvantaged people. “He gave them dignity and he was very pastorally active among the poor.”

Worked for justice

Cotabato Auxiliary Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo condemned Tentorio’s killing and said over Church-run Radio Veritas: “This again taints our international image.”

Bagaforo said priests from Kidapawan, where the communist New People’s Army (NPA) operated, said the killing could have been done either by those “underground” or by a rightist group.

“There are many rightist armed groups that are offended by the work for justice being done by the Church, especially Father Fausto, who is a director for tribal Filipinos. That was his advocacy,” Bagaforo said.

Two other PIME missionaries were killed while assigned in separate areas in Mindanao several decades ago.

Fr. Tulio Favali was brutally murdered by militiamen led by Norberto Manero in 1985 in North Cotabato, while Fr. Salvatore Carzedda was killed in Zamboanga in 1992.

Death threats

Mariani said Tentorio, like other missionaries in Mindanao, had received death threats and his murder may have been linked to his efforts to help the tribespeople.

“Missionaries have always been the voice of the poor and, if you work on their behalf, sometimes you are bound to step on the toes of those who have other interests,” he said.

Founded in 1926, PIME missionaries work in 17 countries around the world, mainly in areas where there are conflicts and political turmoil, according to its website.

Mariani said there were at least 20 PIME priests in the Philippines, most of whom were in Mindanao.

PNP investigating

As of 4 p.m. Monday, the Italian Embassy had not issued a statement. An embassy source said it was still awaiting the official police report.

Malacañang on Monday night said the Philippine National Police was now looking into the murder.

“We condemn the killing of Father Tentorio,” presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said.
He said President Benigno Aquino III was aware of the murder and had been told by Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo that he was now investigating the killing.

The DFA condemned the murder “in the strongest terms.”

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario offered his “sincerest condolences to (Tentorio’s) family and to his congregation” and added: “We call on the police to immediately bring the perpetrators of this dastardly act to justice.”

Memories of Favali

Commission on Human Rights Chairperson Loretta Ann Rosales said: “It’s terrible. It brings memories of Fr. Tulio Favali.”

Rosales asked PNP Director General Nicanor Bartolome to “give full attention” to solving the murder.

Rosales did not rule out the possibility that Tentorio’s mission to protect the indigenous peoples had put his life in danger.

“Advocates critical of big mining operations are gunned down with impunity while rebels demand higher taxes from these businesses at the risk of having their equipment burned. The PNP must step up its operations to protect innocent lives,” she added.

Tentorio had been in the Philippines for 33 years.

He was first assigned in the Archdiocese of Zamboanga in 1978. He was transferred to the Diocese of Kidapawan in 1980 and assigned as mission administrator in the parish of Columbio in the province of Sultan Kudarat. In 1985, he was transferred to the mission station of Arakan.
Killing the dream

North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Lala Taliño Mendoza vowed to work with other authorities to arrest the perpetrators of the killing.

In a statement, Bishop Romulo dela Cruz, D.D., of the Diocese of Kidapawan asked the parishioners of Arakan to remain calm and added: “May God touch the hearts of the perpetrator.”

Norma Capuyan, chairperson of the Apo Sandawa Lumadnong Panaghiusa sa Cotabato (ASLPC), said the assassin not only killed a priest but also the dreams of indigenous peoples who were scholars of the slain priest.

“He was the only hope of the indigenous peoples in Arakan. He was a father and a mentor to them. He sent them to high school and college,” Capuyan said.

The Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), a religious order, also denounced the killing.
Describing Tentorio as a missionary who selflessly worked to help the indigenous peoples and the poor farmers, Lauro de Guia, OMI provincial superior, said: “We are saddened that there are sectors in our society who are against our work to help bring about peace in Mindanao.”

In Zamboanga City, Claretian priest Angel Calvo said the killing of Tentorio “confirmed once more that working for justice and peace is risky and dangerous in some parts of the country.”

Basilan Bishop Martin Jumoad said: “It is always painful when someone, a man of the cloth, is killed. We ask that his death be given justice and perpetrators immediately arrested and made accountable for the crime.”

Friday, October 14, 2011


Indigenous Women Ask

President Noynoy Aquino recently approved the military proposal to allow mining companies to form and fund militias or Special Civilian Active Auxiliary units.

In just 9 days after the Surigao mining attack, the Aquino administration has immediately acted on the demand of the mining industry for protection.

We now ask – protection against whom?

In our meeting with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) officials, one said that the militias are necessary to protect the mining companies from attacks and threats to foreign investments.

This sends chills to our bones. This sounds like a blanket call to intensify attacks against us - protectors of the environment and defenders of our indigenous communities, who have often been referred to as anti-development, and threats to investments.

As indigenous women, we have been struggling for so long against mining in our territories – as mining destroys our watersheds in Mindoro and in Negros Occidental; mining poisons our rivers in Agusan del Sur; causes divisiveness among our Subanen people, destroys our sources of food in Zambales, in Nueva Vizcaya and desecrates our sacred lands in Misamis Oriental. Mining violently forces our communities to leave our lands.

As defenders of our rights, we organize campaigns, we sign petitions, we write complaints, we seek for dialogues, we file cases, we take to the streets, and some of us, have launched hunger strike for more than a week. We monitor, document, report and expose violations committed by the mining companies in our areas.

As a result, our leaders have been killed. We experience harassment and threats. We have been labeled as NPA-supporters, or rebels ourselves. Prices are put on our heads. All these, because we oppose mining; because we exercise our right to say no to mining; and we assert our right to our land.

Through all this, we get no protection from the government. We have no assurance that we can continue to assert our rights free from harassment, threats and violence. With this approval of P’Noy to form and fund militias for the protection of mining companies, we fear for the escalation of violence against us, in our communities. We fear for our security, for our lives.

Militias, which have been organized and funded by different politicos and companies, have a long track record of human rights violations against women and men from indigenous communities who defend our territories from encroachment and destruction. And these violations have enjoyed immunity, all in the name of defending investments and so-called national interest.

Who then do we turn to, to protect us? If P’Noy who we expected to enforce changes in our system and governance, has resulted to the same militaristic response against our legitimate concerns and issues against mining, then we are losing hope in this government.

And so, we turn to ourselves, and draw inspiration and strength from each other – we, indigenous women from mining-affected and other development project-affected communities.

And we hope that this solidarity will protect us from those who consider us threats to their investments, and obstacles to their opportunity to earn for themselves.

Because now we realize, we only have ourselves to rely on.

As we now know who the real boss is of PNoy.


Signed byBae Anahaw Ruth C. Tila-on (Manobo/ Agusan del Sur)
Conchita Bigong (Alangan-Mangyan / Oriental Mindoro)
Nena “Bae Rose” D. Undag (Higaonon / Misamis Oriental)
Nilda M. Mangilay (Subanen / Zamboanga del Norte)
Judith P. Maranes (Ibaloi / Baguio City)
Shirley D. Sombuador (Ati-Bukidnon / Bacolod, Negros Occidental)
Marilyn V. Masaganda (Aeta / Capas, Tarlac)
Maria Tialang (Blaan / South Cotabato)Lily Quindo (Blaan / South Cotabato)

The Koronadal IP Women Gathering held in Marbel, South Cotabato last July 22-24, 2011 was participated in by 56 women from different indigenous communities. The women developed and came up with an Indigenous Women Declaration which contains their plight and situation, as well as their demands from the government.

Contact through – judy a. pasimio /Legal Rights and Natural Resources / 9281372

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Green groups remember death of Romblon environmentalist

Press ReleaseOctober 4, 2011
Green groups remember death of Romblon environmentalist

Sibuyan Island, Romblon – Environmental groups and residents of biodiversity-rich Sibuyan Island commemorate the death of anti-mining activist Armin Rios Marin during a tribute and mass for environmental justice at Brgy. Espana, San Fernando, yesterday.

Marin was murdered on October 3, 2007, by a security officer of nickel mining company Sibuyan Nickel Properties Development Corporation (SNPDC), while leading a protest against a survey and the approval of special permits to cut more than 70,000 trees.

Marin was trustee of Sibuyan Island Sentinels League for Environment Inc. (Sibuyan ISLE), former local councilor and staff of World Wildlife Fund (WWF); and lay leader of a local parish church.

“We are still standing united against the exploitation of our island; before Armin died he showed us how to stand firm to protect the future our children’s children. Justice for him is the revocation of Altai’s MPSA license,” said Domingo Marin, father of the murdered councilor.

“Mining in island ecosystems like Sibuyan and neighboring Tablas in Romblon is not sustainable as it endangers the livelihood and lives of communities, our voices should be heard – Romblon says NO,” said Msgr. Ernie Fetalino, chairman of Romblon Ecumenical Forum Against Mining (REFAM).

“Armin Rios Marin’s death is not isolated; this is the consequence of the insistence of large scale mining companies and the previous administration to exploit even the lives of communities – President Benigno Aquino III should consider the revocation of Altai’s mining permit,” lamented Jaybee Garganera, national coordinator of Alyansa Tigil Mina.

“Mining affected communities will always stand up for their rights because the issue at hand goes beyond economics, for them it is food security, disaster resiliency, intergenerational responsibility and carrying capacity of nature,” Garganera added.

SNPDC is the local partner of Australia-based Pelican Resources Ltd. and implementer of a Mineral Productions Sharing Agreement (MPSA) permit held by Altai Philippines Mining Corporation (APMC) for an estimated area of 1,500 hectares. APMC is a subsidiary of Canada-based Altai Resources Inc.

The Mines and Geosciences Bureau recently issued a Cease and Desist Order to Altai due to complaints from the local government units and the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.

Local government units, environmental groups, the religious, students and teachers, farmers and fisher folks joined the celebration.

Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) is an alliance of mining-affected communities and their support groups of NGOs/POs and other civil society organizations who are opposing the aggressive promotion of large-scale mining in the Philippines. (30)

For more information:
Jaybee Garganera, ATM National Coordinator, (0927) 761.76.02 Farah Sevilla, ATM Policy&Advocacy Officer, (0915) 331.33.61

Monday, September 26, 2011

International and local experts lambast SMI consultants

Press ReleaseSeptember 26, 2011

International and local experts lambast SMI consultants
Say Tampakan mining project has high potential for loss of life and environmental damage

Koronadal City—International and local experts critiqued the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) of the Tampakan Mine Project in a public forum held at the South Cotabato gymnasium and Cultural Center, last September 23.

Fr. Joy Peliño, director of the Social Action Center of the Marbel Diocese said, “The Office of the Governor and the Social Action Center of Marbel co-organized this activity to bring together the SMI/Xstrata consultants and experts from the anti-mining groups to present to the people how the Tampakan mining project will actually impact the people and environment.”

Clive Wicks and Dr. Robert Goodland, environmental consultants and members of the London based Working Group on Mining in the Philippines (WGMP-UK) read and analyzed the draft Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) of Sagittarius Mines Inc/Xstrata and found that the 3,000-pages document fails to disclose the most severe impacts of the mining project in an area of high seismic activity and is badly flawed in recognition of the risks the mine poses.

A shorter version of the ESIA is the EIS, which was equally criticized. The document is a requirement by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Environmental Management Bureau (DENR-EMB)— before SMI/Xstrata can receive the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) necessary to start mine development.

After two and a half hours of presentation by the SMI/Xstrata consultants, Clive Wicks and Filipino experts, Atty. Ipat Luna and Kail Zingapan, presented their evaluation and discussed the real risks of the project that seemed to be covered up in the massive EIS and ESIA documents.

Wicks pointed out that SMI own consultants admitted in their Waste Management Appendix (page 42), ”There is a high potential for loss of life and severe environmental damage if the tailings dam or rock storage facility collapse”. He went on to say that in the view of himself and Dr. Robert Goodland there was a strong chance that the facilities would collapse just as 16 tailings dams have collapsed in the Philippines in recent years. Many more tailings dams have collapsed on the Island of New Guinea.

Wicks asked the SMI mining experts a pointed question. “You know that the mine area is on top of stratovolcanoes and fault lines, some of which cross each other, and is located in an area of high seismic activity, and you will build large dams and a rock storage facility for 1.6 billion tons of toxic rock that are highly susceptible to breakage and disasters. In that event, how many people will die?” This is a question he has asked in his assessment of other plans in different countries. SMI/Xstrata consultants did not answer the query and Wicks insisted that they must provide the answer.

Wicks also pointed out that SMI/Xstrata are expecting the people of the three provinces to take the risk forever in perpetuity, while the company only carries the risk for about 20 years. The company does not even recognize many of them as stakeholders. Every person who uses water from the Tampakan Mountain is a stakeholder

and has a human right to clean water. One of the biggest risks is to the vital shallow aquifers under Koronadal Valley and many other areas. If they are polluted by acid mine drainage they can never be cleaned up.

The Tampakan mine development covers an area of approximately 10, 000 hectares. The development will cut down almost 4,000-hectares of forests including old growth forests. It will affect the water source of communities on 6 rivers with arsenic and acid mine drainage. The Mal river will be the worst affected as many streams in its catchment will be destroyed and replaced by the tailings dam. That will impact the Mal River, the region’s biggest river system and damage agriculture in Davao del Sur.

Kail Zingapan of Philippine Association for Intercultural Development (PAFID), who worked with local indigenous communities to produce an impressive 3-D map of the Koronadal Valley and the Tampakan watersheds, explained what the mining project would mean for the affected communities.

“This is the People’s Map, we did not invent this. The people pointed out to us where their lands are located and we plotted them in the map. We showed them the outcome and they saw that the mine development area covers their ancestral lands and it seems not all of them were consulted or correctly informed of the risks by SMI,” she said.

People were shocked as Zingapan placed the supposed mine tailings dam area on top of the hill, and the fresh water dam right where Mal River is located. “This is your land, where you live and get your food and needs for everyday. It is up to you now if you want to see this land devastated and taken away from you or not,” she said in Bisaya.

Environmental lawyer Ipat Luna, on the other hand, explained her legal evaluation of the EIS, “The EIS inadequately sets out the direct losses to be caused by the project and has gaps in terms of other legal permits and compliance.

She further added, “The Stakeholders’ Development Framework fails to appreciate the unique cultural identity of the B’laan and merely enumerates standard social development interventions.”

After the presentation of SMI’s EIA and critique, Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez of the Diocese of Marbel said, “No mining project will ever be good for us. Let us continue to support the South Cotabato Environmental Code that bans open pit mining.” Bishop Gutierrez reiterated there is no need for the Sangguniang Panlalawigan to review the said code.

Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) national coordinator Jaybee Garganera said, “Unlike SMI/Xstrata who are here to get the approval of the people to mine their lands, the experts and non governmental organizations are here because the communities requested our help. We are here also because we believe that the claimed benefits of this mining project are clearly outweighed by the impacts it will bring to water, agriculture, forests, biodiversity and communities.”
Towards the end, SMI/Xstrata consultants found it hard to convince the people that their project will not impact negatively on many lives.

When asked, “What if the directly-affected people do not want to leave their lands,” a SMI/Xstrata spokesperson answered, “If you the people do not want leave and re-settle, then we do not have a project to talk about.” SMI’s problem is that all the people who depend on the upland area for water will have to give their approval, not just the 7 Barangays on the top of the mountain.

After two hours of Open Forum, Gov. Arthur Pingoy Jr concluded and assured the people, “As the governor of this province, I will implement the (Provincial Environmental Code) Ordinance. There will be no open-pit mining in the province unless there is an order from the Courts. I am duty bound to implement the Ordinance.”

He added that the forum was primarily organized to allow the Sangguniang Panalalawigan to arrive at an informed decision in reviewing the provision in the provincial Environment Code banning open pit mining.

More than 6,000 people went to listen and ask questions at the forum. Most of them were able to go inside, while some people stayed outside due to lack of space, where a big screen displayed the happenings inside.

Wicks and Goodland were authors of the book “Philippines: Mining or Food?,” published in 2009, a book that documented how the agriculture industry and communities are affected by mining activities in the country.

Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) is an alliance of mining-affected communities and their support groups of NGOs/POs and other civil society organizations who are opposing the aggressive promotion of large-scale mining in the Philippines. (30)

For more information:
Dr. Robert Goodland, LWGMP, Fr. Frank Nally, LWGMP, Clive Wicks, LWGMP, Kail Zingapan, PAFID Atty. Ipat Luna, Fr. Joy Peliño, SAC-Marbel Director, Jaybee Garganera, ATM National Coordinator, (0927) 761.76.02 Farah Sevilla, ATM Policy & Advocacy Officer, (0915) 331.33.61

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Supposed benefits from Mindanao mining project questioned

Environmental activists have questioned claims that the $5.2-billion Tampakan Copper-Gold Project by Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI) in South Cotabato would yield huge benefits for the national economy and for local communities around the mining area.

“Hindi kami naniniwala sa sinasabi ng SMI at ng national government na malaki ang maitutulong ng proyekto sa ekonomiya ng bansa kung pagbabatayan ang mga epekto ng mina sa komunidad," Rene Pamplona, representative of the Diocese of Marbel in South Cotabato (SAC-Marbel) said.

Pamplona, along with indigenous community leaders, made the statement on the occasion of the Mining Philippines 2011 and Exhibition in Pasay City, held from September 13 to 15.

Contrary to SMI's claims, the project will not improve lives and give sustainable benefits to communities there, Pamplona said.

The project, which involves one of the world’s largest undeveloped copper-gold deposits, is hounded by environmental issues, considering that it covers 31,599.64 hectares within the boundaries of Sultan Kudarat, South Cotabato, Sarangani and Davao del Sur provinces.

Project operator SMI has been insisting that the venture is a win-win deal for both residents and companies in the area.

The Tampakan project, a joint venture of SMI, Xstrata Copper (62.5 percent), Indophil Resources NL (34.2 percent), and Alsons Corp. (3.3 percent), is still in its development stage. Actual mining operations are expected to start by 2016.

Environmental activists and indigenous peoples groups are opposed to the project due to the potential environmental destruction it might bring.

Judy Pasimio, executive director of Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center – Kasama sa Kalikasan (LRC-KsK/FOEI) said that “While SMI is bragging they will pour in more than $5 billion of investments, the project will actually pollute approximately seven billion liters of fresh water during operations."

The water resource from the area, according the Pasimio, is being used by communities – both upland and lowland – in three provinces for domestic and agricultural use, including the approximately 5,000 thousand farmers in South Cotabato.

Studies on the SMI draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the mining project showed that the mining project will result in extensive physical disturbance of forest lands, including old growth forests; threaten water resources of four provinces, and further bring about tribal conflicts.

Alyansa Tigil Mina national coordinator Jaybee Garganera said “As with many other mining projects in the Philippines, we believe the Tampakan project, if pursued, will only add to the list of mining tragedies that in the end will neither help the communities nor the national economy."
Moreover, he said the project will intensify human rights violations and conflicts and further aggravate the situation of our indigenous brothers and sisters in the mountains.

On the other hand, Pamplona said “Hinihiling namin na magbuo si Pangulong Aquino ng isang special body na mag-iimbistiga sa kasalukuyang kalagayan ng mine development area, pati na rin ang mga posibleng impact ng mining operations sa iba’t ibang stakeholders na hindi lang batay sa kung ano ang isusumite ng SMI na Environmental Impact Statement at sigurado na makikita niyang dapat ikansela ang FTAA ng Xstrata SMI."

Proponents of the Tampakan mining project are supposedly trying to convince the Office of the President and the Department of Interior and Local Government to suspend the provision of the South Cotabato Provincial Environmental Code that bans open-pit mining in South Cotabato.

For its part, the SMI expressed optimism the mining ban review will push through.

At the Pasay City conference, SMI general manager Mark Williams said public consultations on the project are under way.

“SMI commenced our public consultation meetings in the towns of Tampakan in South Cotabato, Kiblawan in Davao del Sur, and Malungon in Sarangani earlier this month with a similar meeting being held in Columbio, Sultan Kudarat," Williams said.

“These consultation meetings provide our stakeholders with an opportunity to hear a balanced report of our draft Mine EIS and allow them to provide feedback to SMI staff and ask questions to our technical specialist," he added. — Jerbert Briola/LBG, GMA News