COMMENTARY: SMI-Xstrata boys say Ateneo a “bogus” school

MANILA (MinadNews/05 Feb) — When the Ateneo de Davao University hosted a mining conference at its campus on January 26-27, the Philippine Chamber of Mines, in support of SMI-Xstrata, which wants to put up the biggest ever mining project in Tampakan, South Cotabato, attacked the conference with a sledge-hammer PR salvo – a full-page ad in the Inquirer, a set of front page articles in the Davao City’s Sun Star, backed up by radio commentaries, all in one day. The next day, another pro-SMI article came out in the business section of Inquirer.

The local radio sweetener branded Ateneo as a ‘bogus’ school. That amateur-ish PR move was a double-edged sword. If you call a prestigious Jesuit university ‘bogus’, the other blade is pointed at you. In truth, it discredited SMI-Xstrata as a rogue corporation resorting to pathetic name-calling.

The sledge-hammer overkill PR is a sign of desperation for two reasons. First, SMI-Xstrata’s ECC or license to operate was recently denied by the DENR because there is an existing ban on open pit mining. DENR told them to resolve this issue with the South Cotabato Province, which issued the ban. South Cotabato Governor Pingoy graced the Ateneo affair, promising that the ban will not be lifted, come hell or high water. Even so, the powerful multinational is confident it can get the ECC ‘by hook or by crook’. They will do anything to intervene and shake the foundation of Philippine governance for an envisioned super-windfall. They want that at all cost.

The second reason for despair is – SMI-Xstrata has reportedly spent about half a billion dollars at this early stage, and there is no turning back. A media consultant estimated that SMI spends easily about P6 to 8 million a year on PR. An LGU source claimed that, on vehicle rentals alone, SMI spends P75,000 a month per vehicle for about 50 vehicles, which translates to P45 million a year, not including gas and driver. Field reports showed SMI spends P500,000 per barangay as part of this sledge hammer PR. Yet tribal beneficiaries complain that they have not received promised tuition money. SMI came out with a 3,000-page Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA), reportedly costing a whopping $75 million. In the fine print buried in an appendix, an environment consultant was shocked to read an item where SMI’s own engineers warned of the risks of the project to lives. Was it the intent to bury truth in fine print beyond the eyes of Fiipinos? Well, it is not working. Wallowing in spiraling expenses, there is no turning back for SMI-Xstrata.

A sledge-hammer press release prior to the Ateneo affair and immediately after the ECC denial came out ‘suggested’ that the burden was on the National Government to pressure the province to lift ban, coupled with a veiled threat that if this does not work, the next arena would be the courts. They gloat in confidence on the fact that the Supreme Court reversed a decision declaring SMI’s contract as unconstitutional.

This PR game is a classic David-and-Goliath story. Filipinos fighting for the protection of the B’laans and farmers and their families in the millions in four affected provinces have no money for PR. SMI-Xstrata has virtually unlimited resources for PR. But Ateneo de Davao President Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ, had a simple retort – remember that David won with God’s help. The stones of David’s slingshot are first, the open pit ban, and second, another growing movement to put on top of that a 5-year moratorium on large scale mining, championed by Provincial Councilor Ernie Catedral, and endorsed by the three ‘KIDMADI’ bishops (Kidapawan-Marbel-Digos) who have formed a historic alliance against SMI-Xstrata. The people of Mindanao will not permit a powerful corporation to make them poor by destroying their source of food.

It is getting more and more expensive for SMI as there is an upswell of Filipinos uniting to stop the giant from raping the lush farmlands of Koronadal and Davao del Sur. If the 1.35 billion metric tons of tailings in SMI’s dam, about eight times bigger than the infamous one of Placer Dome in Boac, Marinduque, collapses, it can induce insurgency growth and famine in Central Mindanao’s bread basket on a massive scale. The tailings dam sits on top of the mountain in perpetuity, meaning forever, right above a critical irrigation dam. It will take just another Sendong to trigger a mega-disaster. See Youtube link – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hoYTNEli8gA

In a press conference at Ateneo, Fr. Tabora admitted he intentionally did not invite the mining group for a reason. He wanted a dialogue among those who are opposing such a potential mega-disaster, and he did not want the affair to evolve into a war between pro and anti. Fr. Tabora cited an instance when the miners were invited but they backed out last minute. In truth, they are afraid to face the crowd of NGOs which can out-debate them anytime, and who know all about corporate shenanigans.

The poor mining consortium felt rejected. Yet, they were doing the same thing. B’laans reported that anti-mining advocates were prevented to enter the crowded venue to vote, by the large pro-mining crowd. They were also told to sign a paper to receive lunch, and this was inserted as documents claiming they approve of the mining project. Did these ‘bogus’ signatures justify their EIA claims of Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) of affected stakeholders? We welcome replies from SMI-Xstrata. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Bernie Lopez describes himself as a “freelance environmenta journalist and documentary producer, contributor to Inquirer, former senior columnist at BusinessWorld.” He can be reached at [email protected]).

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