KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/10 April) — Diocese of Marbel Bishop Dinualdo D. Gutierrez marked the 50th year of his priestly ministry yesterday with a late afternoon thanksgiving mass where hundreds of parishioners offered prayers for the protection of the environment from the impact of large-scale mining in the area.
For 30 years now, Gutierrez has been the bishop of Marbel, whose pastoral jurisdiction includes the town of Tampakan, South Cotabato, host of the copper and gold project of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc.
Under his leadership, the diocese has been at the forefront in the struggle against the Tampakan project, which is planned to go on commercial stream in 2016.
To commemorate his golden jubilee, Gutierrez celebrated a special mass, concelebrated by at least two dozens bishops from across the country and numerous priests under the diocesan territory.
One of the prayers read by a layperson included an appeal for government officials to help the Church in protecting the environment because it is God’s creation, apparently referring to the Tampakan copper-gold project.
“[May the Lord God] hear the prayers of our people,” the bishop responded.
Pope Benedict XVI has written a letter, which was read during the mass, to congratulate Gutierrez for being the bishop of Marbel for three decades.
The diocese has 24 parishes straddling the provinces of South Cotabato, Sarangani and parts of Sultan Kudarat. Some 70 priests, both diocesan and from religious orders, serve in the diocese.
In the homily given by Davao Archbishop Fernando Capalla, he lauded Gutierrez as a strong supporter of the indigenous peoples or lumads in their fight against mining.
Gutierrez has consistently denounced the mining project of Sagittarius Mines, and rejoiced when the Department of Environment and Natural Resources early this year denied the firm’s application for an environmental compliance certificate.
The denial of the ECC was anchored on the open-pit ban imposed by the provincial government of South Cotabato.
Sagittarius Mines, based on its studies, said that open-pit mining is the best way to extract the massive copper and gold deposits in Tampakan.
The bishop said the Tampakan project, touted as the largest known undeveloped copper-gold deposit in Southeast Asia, threatens food security and poses threats to the environment and human lives, among others.
John B. Arnaldo, Sagittarius Mines corporate communications manager, repeatedly said that “they respect the views of their critics” but maintained that “responsible mining” would be employed in the project.
A few years ago, executives of Sagittarius Mines met with Gutierrez at his residence here but they failed to sway him into supporting the mining project. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)