In a statement, Koronadal Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez, said the burning of the firm’s base camp was “an unfortunate incident and a regrettable means of welcoming 2008” but he called on the mining firm to leave so “our people will have peace.”
The New People’s Army attacked the base camp dawn of January 1, burning the administration building and quarters, among others.
“The Church in general and the Diocese of Marbel in particular never condone any violent means of trying to settle any dispute or differences. But while the Diocese of Marbel condemns the terroristic act against SMI, we are not surprised by the incident,” the bishop said.
“We have foreseen this to happen. Previous statements of the Diocese of Marbel cited that the presence of large scale mining would affect our peace and order situation. Any immoral activity breeds social ills,” he said.
The Diocese covers the cities of Koronadal and General Santos and the provinces of South Cotabato, Sarangani and parts of Sultan Kudarat.
SMI has its principal office in Tampakan, South Cotabato but exploration activities also include the towns of Columbio in Sultan Kudarat and Kiblawan in Davao del Sur.
“While we call on our faithful and all sectors to always resort to peaceful means of confrontation, we also urge the Sagittarius management to rethink their presence in the region,” the bishop said.
“What other social ills await our people because of Sagittarius’s mining activities? The message is clear. In the spirit of Christian charity, we pray to the mining company, please leave, and our people will have peace,” he stressed.
In citing social ills, Gutierrez recalled the labor dispute last October where workers padlocked several facilities of Sagittarius and barricaded roads leading to the base camp in Barangay Tablu, about three to four hours uphill drive from the town proper.
Some 30 to 40 communist rebels stormed the base camp and burned at least P12 million worth of buildings and office equipment, police said.
A nearby military detachment was also harassed to prevent the government security forces from responding to the base camp raid. No one was reported injured in the simultaneous attacks.
The bishop said the burning incident at the base camp has caused fear among the people in the mountains of Tampakan. He said the area has also been militarized, as troops were deployed to the area to scour the mountains for the rebels.
Days after the attack, Gerardo Laviste, SMI resident manager, reaffirmed the firm’s commitment to pursue the development of the Tampakan copper-gold project.
SMI has global mining player Xstrata Copper, which is based in Brisbane, Australia, as its top investor and another Australian firm Indophil Resources NL. as partner.
Xstrata Copper released a new estimate last month, its first since assuming management in March, pegging resources at 2.2 billion tons, up 10% from the last estimate declared in April 2006.
The upgraded measured, indicated and inferred resource totals 2.2 billion tons at a grade of 0.6% copper and 0.2 grams per ton gold and contains 12.8 million tons of copper and 15.2 million ounces of gold using a 0.3% copper cut-off grade, the company said in a statement.
Previous estimates pegged resources at two billion tons, containing 11.6 million tons of copper and 14.6 million ounces of gold at a 0.3% copper cut-off grade. (MindaNews)