Bishop warns of possible water crisis due to mining

Gutierrez , who a day earlier warned of violence following the training of hundreds of civilians in the minesite into barangay tanods, said studies have shown that copper and gold mining operations similar to the large-scale venture proposed by Anglo-Swiss mining firm Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) in the area would reportedly require a huge volume of water.

He said the area’s water resources would likely be tapped by the company for the floatation portion in copper processing.

“When that happens, our farms and communities in the lowlands will eventually face the possibility of losing stable water supply in the future,” the bishop said in a radio interview here.

Gutierrez urged residents to be extra vigilant on SMI’s proposed mining operations since Republic Act 7942 or the Mining Act of 1995 explicitly provides “water rights” to the company within its proposed project area.

He said Section 73 specifically provides that “a contractor shall have water rights for mining operations.”

Although the provision cites mechanisms for the protection of the water resources within a mining area, the bishop said there is no assurance that such concern would be strictly observed by the firm.

“We clearly cannot trust our government agencies on this based on our experiences in some mining areas in the country,” Gutierrez said.

SMI's mining project covers at least five villages in the municipalities of Tampakan in South Cotabato, Columbio in Sultan Kudarat and Kiblawan in Davao del Sur.

But residents in areas downstream, like Buluan town in Maguindanao, have expressed fears they would lose their livelihood when the mining operation begins. Buluan town passed a resolution in 2006 opposing SMI’s operations, claiming the lake-dependent town would lose its livelihood when siltation and pollutants flow into the lake.

The minesite straddling the three provinces reportedly represents one of the largest undeveloped copper-gold deposits in South East Asia and with confirmed mineral resource estimate of 2.2 billion tons containing 12.8 million tons of copper and 15.2 million ounces of gold at a 0.3% copper cut-off grade.

The company, which is currently in the exploration and pre-feasibility studies phase, has maintained that it has been giving substantial effort on preserving the area’s resources and protection of the environment.

In March last year, global mining player Xstrata Copper took over management control of SMI.

SMI has created its own environmental department to give more focus on its environmental initiatives, which includes a massive reforestation of the forests destroyed by previous logging operations in the area.

But Eliezer Billanes, secretary general of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, General Santos and Davao del Sur Alliance for Genuine Development Agenda or Socsksargen Agenda, said the proposed mining area of SMI reportedly poses serious risks to the area’s watershed.

"They are going to mine an area that serves as the main source or headwater of at least five major river systems in the area and of Liguasan Marsh," he earlier said.

Billanes pointed out that the "area is not negotiable for mining and should be conserved, protected and rehabilitated or reforested for sustained, sufficient, clean and safe water for us and the future generations. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)