From Koronadal to Digos: 1,000 to stage 4-day 150-km walk vs Sagittarius Mines

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/05 December) — At least 1,000 people are expected to join a grueling four-day march spanning about 150 kilometers to dramatize their opposition to the large-scale mining project of Sagittarius Mines Inc., organizers said Sunday.

Organizers said the long walk also aims to pressure the national government into denying the issuance of an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) to the foreign-backed company pursuing the Tampakan copper-gold project.

Ryan Lariba, secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan – Socsksargen chapter, said the march will kick off in this city on Tuesday with a demonstration outside the regional office of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau.

The walk will end on December 10 in Digos City, Davao del Sur to coincide with the global celebration of Human Rights Day, he added.

The protestors, who will come from the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and Davao del Sur, will conduct pit stops in several localities where Sagittarius Mines is expected to operate.

On the first day, the activists will picket the main office of Sagittarius Mines in Tampakan town, South Cotabato, after the rally at the MGB regional office.

On the second day, the group will demonstrate outside the sub-office of the mining firm in General Santos City.

Sagittarius Mines has listed Tampakan town as the site of its principal office but most of the operational and administrative functions are now in General Santos City apparently due to security concerns. In two separate occasions since 2008, the New People’s Army had successfully launched attacks in Tampakan against the company.

On the third day, the marchers will proceed to Malalag town in Davao del Sur, where Sagittarius plans to establish a dedicated coal-fired power plant and related facilities worth $900 million.

Lariba said that on the fourth day, they will resume the walk in Padada town, Davao del Sur towards Digos City, where they will observe Human Rights Day.

He said the mining project of Sagittarius Mines has intensified the militarization in the area, allegedly resulting in several human rights violations.

Aside from the militant group Bayan, the protestors will include 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.

“We hope the activity will leave a lasting mark in the public mind that projects like that of SMI must not be allowed to push through because of its imminent danger to the environment,” Lariba said.

Vehicles will accompany the protestors so that those who will get tired of walking can be given a lift, he added.

John B. Arnaldo, Sagittarius Mines corporate communications manager, could not be reached for comment on Sunday but he had repeatedly said the company “always respects the views” of those against their mining project.

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 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.

Sagittarius Mines, which targets to start commercial operation by 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, issued a memorandum ordering 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)