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