Tempest sinking in at Tampakan project’

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/28 March) – One of the worst fears expressed years back by the local Catholic Church over the massive Tampakan copper-gold project of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc – that of tribesmen taking up firearms in protest of the mining operation and its related activities – may have begun to unfold.

Fr. Romeo Catedral, social action director of the Diocese of Marbel, made such assertion Monday even as he noted that long before, the local Catholic Church has already warned of violence that may result from the mining project of Sagittarius Mines.

“What happened was alarming. We have warned of this a long time ago,” said the priest, referring to last Friday’s ambush that resulted in the death of three people and the wounding of two others.

The communist New People’s Army (NPA) rebels were initially suspected of carrying out the ambush in Sitio Datalbiao in Barangay Danlag in Tampakan, South Cotabato.

But Lt. Col. Joel Alejandro Nacnac, commander of the 27th Infantry Battalion, now ruled out the NPA rebels in the attack on workers of a construction company contracted by Sagittarius Mines for a road gravelling project in the mines development site.

Citing military investigation, he identified the main suspect in the ambush as Dagil Capion, a B’laan tribesman who has been opposing the mining project of Sagittarius Mines.

“If the NPA rebels were involved, the attack could be worse,” Nacnac said, apparently referring to the communist guerrillas’ tendency to also destroy vehicles or equipment.

Capion has gone into hiding and he allegedly admitted to the ambush, a source close to the suspect who requested anonymity told MindaNews.

The source has communication with Capion through cellular phone. MindaNews, which has spoken to Capion several times before, could not contact him on Monday.

The source also relayed that roadblocks have been set up by supposed joint police and military operatives in barangays Danlag and Pulabato following Friday’s ambush on the workers of LVE Construction, which is owned by the family of Tampakan Mayor Leonardo V. Escobillo.

The source said that the checkpoints allegedly would not allow food supplies to their communities, describing it as a form of harassment.

The whole tribal community should not be made to suffer if one or several members have done something wrong, the source said, adding that clan members have been asked by authorities to surrender Capion and the others who allegedly staged the ambush.

In several interviews he gave earlier, Capion had vehemently opposed the Tampakan project for allegedly disrupting the peace in their community. He also claimed the mining project would “surely wreck havoc to our mountains, by turning them upside down.”

The company eyes open-pit mining, a method banned by the provincial government of South Cotabato.

In one occasion, Capion had warned that “he would not desist from taking firearms” if needed, and that he’s willing to die just to protect the mountains from the claws of mining.

The source said several tribesmen who have benefited from the entry of Sagittarius Mines may have bought high-powered firearms from the money they got from the mining company. The suspects used armalite and garand rifles in Friday’s ambush.

Sagittarius Mines, which targets commercial mining operation by 2016, has been paying landowners whose area were affected by its exploration activities.

John Arnaldo, the firm’s communications manager, has repeatedly said the company welcomes the views of critics to their mining project, which he added “shall be carried out  responsibly,” adhering to highest mining standards.

But with the disturbing development at the mines development site, Catedral said the local Catholic Church is contemplating of conducting a fact-finding mission within the Tampakan project to find out the root cause of the growing violence that’s pervading there, and may provide recommendation thereafter to restore peace and order in the mountains.

Surely we don’t want the bloodshed to escalate there, the priest said, condemning the deadly ambush as against the laws of the land and of God.

Catedral said that, if indeed Capion perpetrated the ambush, he should suffer the consequences.

The priest appeared to regret Capion’s implication in the ambush as the suspect was a staunch ally of the local Catholic Church in campaigning for Sagittarius Mines to abandon the Tampakan project. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)