Pro-mining folks picket South Cot gov’s house

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/16 June) — Some 3,000 pro-mining folks from the communities around the Tampakan mine site staged a picket this morning outside the residence of South Cotabato Gov. Daisy P. Avance-Fuentes to ask her not to sign the environment code that bans open-pit mining.

The code recently passed by the provincial board on third and final reading sent Xstrata Copper executives from Australia rushing to visit the governor for a meeting this afternoon.

Fuentes, who cancelled all appointments for the day to tackle the mining issue, appeased protesters by saying that she is giving Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI) one week to submit its arguments against the environment code.

Fuentes particularly wanted to hear Sagittarius Mines’ side on a 2008 study by British experts Robert Goodland and Clive Wicks that reported the Tampakan project, which intends to use the open-pit mining method, will dry up a river system traversing the lowlands of South Cotabato which thrive on agriculture.

She noted that for the five years that the environment code was under deliberation, the mining company failed to provide technical details of the project despite repeated demands.

The governor, in a dialogue with leaders of the protesters, said she may veto the environment code if Sagittarius can convince her that the project would not be disastrous to the environment and the livelihood of thousands of farmers.

This made the protesters, who started the picket at 6 a.m., leave her house before noon.

“Perhaps the British study is accurate,” Fuentes said, hinting that it may be the reason Sagittarius is not releasing its own technical study.

The governor told reporters she was inclined to sign the environment code because the risk of open-pit mining is too high.

She noted, too, that 90 percent of Sagittarius’s profits “will go out of the country.”

Tribal chieftain Dalina Samling, of Barangay Danlag in Tampakan, said they are not aware that Sagittarius has not yet submitted its technical study, and vowed to also stage a protest action to force SMI to submit the document.

Fuentes, who is stepping down as governor to assume her post as representative of the second district of South Cotabato, said that what Sagittarius has submitted so far are reports on the economic aspects of the mining project.

She said that after the Sangguniang Panlalawigan’s approval of the environment code last week, she already met with top officials of Sagittarius, among them general manager Mark Williams.

Peter Forrestal, Sagittarius president and Xstrata Copper executive general manager in the Asia-Pacific, is expected to arrive town Wednesday afternoon for a meeting with Fuentes.

Majority of Sagittarius’s 40-percent controlling equity in the Tampakan project is held by Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer, teaming up with Australian firm Indophil Resources NL.

The 60-percent non-controlling equity shareholders are the Tampakan Mining Corp. and Southcot Mining Corp. (known as the Tampakan Group of Companies). (MindaNews)