Exploration works to resume in Tampakan mines

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/11 May) – Exploration works at the mines development site of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc. are set to resume after more than a month of suspension following an ambush that killed three persons working for a company contractor, a top regional government official said.

Constancio Paye Jr., chief of the regional Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), said that Sagittarius Mines is due to resume its exploratory activities on May 14, a target arrived at after Friday’s meeting together with tribal chieftains who complained about the lack of employment caused by the company’s work stoppage order in the mountains.

“The mining firm set a pre-condition that tribal communities should issue a manifesto of support, with the signatures of the tribal members, to the project before work would resume, which has been worked out since the weekend,” Paye told MindaNews.

Sagittarius Mines suspended exploratory works in the mountains following the March 25 ambush on a convoy of five dump trucks of the LVE Construction, which is owned by Tampakan Mayor Leonardo V. Escobillo and contracted by Sagittarius Mines for a road graveling project in the mines development site.

The ambush, which also injured another worker, was among the several violent incidents that marred the Tampakan copper-gold project since it was revived eight years ago from Western Mining Corp., including the 2008 New Year’s Day attack of the communist New People’s Army at the base camp of Sagittarius Mines. The rebels burned equipment and facilities worth P12 million.

Military authorities later ruled out the NPA rebels and tagged Dagil Capion, a B’laan leader opposing the Tampakan project, as allegedly behind the March ambush incident in Sitio Datalbiao in Barangay Danlag, one of the villages straddled by the mining project.

Capion, who has gone into hiding, has been helping the local Catholic Church in blocking the Tampakan project from pushing through, on concerns over the environment, human health and food security.

John Arnaldo, Sagittarius Mines corporate communications manager, has described the work suspension as “a company best practice.”

MGB’s Paye said that some 200 rotational workers, many from within the communities doing manual labor, have been affected by the work stoppage.

As this developed, Escobillo urged his constituents to be vigilant and help the authorities in flushing out lawless elements in the locality.

“Preservation of peace and order is everybody’s concern. Every citizen should report to the proper authorities any problem related to insurgency, illegal logging, illegal mining and any form of criminality,” he said in a report from the Tampakan information office.

Escobillo has expressed support to the Tampakan project of Sagittarius Mines, which is controlled by Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer.

According to a company study, the Tampakan project could yield an average life of mine annual production rate of 370,000 metric tons and 360,000 ounces of copper and gold, respectively. The initial life mine estimate for the Tampakan project was pegged at 17 years.

The Tampakan project is touted as the largest known undeveloped copper-gold deposit in Southeast Asia and potentially the largest single foreign direct investment in the country at $5.9 billion.

Based on its study, Sagittarius Mines will employ open-pit mining to extract the massive deposit, a method banned by the provincial government of South Cotabato. Several sectors have been pushing for an amendment to the prohibition. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)