Senior Supt. Robert Kiunisala, South Cotabato police director, said at least 40 heavily-armed New People's Army (NPA) rebels forcibly entered the base camp of the Sagittarius Mines Incorporated (SMI) in barangay Tablu, Tampakan at around 3 a.m. today.
He said the rebels immediately disarmed and held the company's security personnel led by its chief security officer Joselito Velez.
No one was hurt in the attack but he said the rebels burned the base camp's administration building, quarters and offices of the United Pacific Drilling Corp. (UPD), a drilling firm contracted by SMI.
Kiunisala said the rebels also harassed a nearby detachment of the Philippine Army and the Citizen's Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) by firing M-203 rifle grenades.
He said the rebels engaged the soldiers and the militiamen in a brief firefight before hastily leaving the area.
"It was very swift. It appears to (have been) a well-planned attack," he said.
Kiunisala said combined elements from the Tampakan and South Cotabato police office and the Philippine Army are now conducting pursuit operations against the attackers, who are reportedly members of the NPA's Front 76 operating in the provinces of South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat and portions of North Cotabato and Davao del Sur.
The rebels were reportedly led by Emmanuel Fernandez alias Commander Bobo, alleged Front 76 secretary, and another alias Jeffrey.
Kiunisala said the rebel's Front 76 was responsible for previous attacks on Army detachments and alleged extortion activities in the area.
Fernandez could not be reached for comment.
Kiunisala said that prior to this morning's attack, SMI has long been receiving demands for payment of revolutionary taxes from the rebels.
Company officials declined to issue any statement saying they are still evaluating what happened.
SMI is currently exploring the mountains of the tri-boundaries of Tampakan, Columbio in Sultan Kudarat and Kiblawan in Davao del Sur, for a proposed large-scale copper and gold mining project in the area.
The company, which is now on extended pre-feasibility study stage, is backed by foreign mining firms Xstrata Copper and the Australian firm Indophil Resources NL.
The Tampakan deposit represents one of the largest undeveloped copper-gold deposits in the Southeast Asia – Western Pacific Region. Resources are pegged at two billion, containing 11.6 million tons of copper and 14.6 ounces of gold at a 0.3% copper cut-off grade. (Allen Estabillo/MindaNews)