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

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