KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/07 December)—Some 50 militant and environment activists started before noon Tuesday the four-day march protest against foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines Inc, owner of the massive Tampakan copper-gold project.
The march-cum-caravan rally, expected to peak to a crowd of at least 1,000 on Friday, will span around 150 kilometers towards Digos City in Davao del Sur.
With their streamers and mobile sound system, the protestors embarked on the long journey with a picket in front of the regional office of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau.
Ryan Lariba, secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Socsksargen chapter, urged the agency to refrain from being the “protector of large mining companies.”
“The plight of local communities must be a paramount concern rather than favoring large mining companies in exploiting the nation’s mineral resources, more than 50% of which lies in Mindanao,” he told reporters.
Constancio A. Paye Jr., regional MGB director, appeared unfazed by the protest action outside his office, even managing to peek at them from the second floor of the building.
“Let them be, that’s democracy at work,” he said.
Paye claimed the laws contain the necessary safety nets for the environment and the indigenous people, referring to the Mining Act of 1995 and the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act.
Lariba said that as part of their protest action, they target to gather 10,000 signatures to pressure the government not to issue an environmental compliance certificate to Sagittarius Mines.
The signatures shall be submitted to President Benigno S. Aquino III, Congress and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, he added.
Sagittarius Mines has embarked on the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment, a requirement in applying for the ECC, a permit that would allow the company to go into commercial production.
Aside from the militant group Bayan, the protestors included members of Karapatan or Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights and Socsksargends Agenda or South Cotabato-Sultan Kudarat-Sarangani-General Santos-Davao del Sur Alliance for Genuine Development, and Gabriela.
They have gained the support of religious groups in the form of overnight sleep in their churches, Lariba said.
Sagittarius Mines could not be contacted for reactions as corporate communications manager John B. Arnaldo was on leave reportedly due to health reasons.
The Tampakan project, controlled by Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer, is touted as the largest undeveloped copper-gold project in Southeast Asia.
Australian firm Indophil Resources NL holds the rest of the equity (37.5%) in the Tampakan project which straddles the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Davao del Sur. Philippine conglomerate San Miguel Corp has expressed interest to acquire Indophil Resources.
Sagittarius Mines, which targets to start commercial operation in 2016, has revised the development cost for the Tampakan project to $5.9 billion from $5.5 billion, including the provision of $900 million for a dedicated power station.
The company’s venture, however, faces an obstacle in the provincial environment code that bans open-pit mining that was approved last June by the provincial government of South Cotabato.
Last month, Malacanang, through the Department of Interior and Local Government, ordered the provincial government to stop the implementation of the code pending its review.
But South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Y. Pingoy Jr., defied the memorandum, noting that only the court can order a suspension or that it can only be stopped if and when the Sangguniang Panlalawigan decides to amend the ban. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)