Militants picket mining firm's office in GenSan

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/09 December) — Angry protesters yesterday picketed outside the satellite office of Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) in this city demanding its expulsion from the mineral development site in Tampakan, South Cotabato.

They blew whistles and bullhorns and banged the gates of the X-strata Plc-controlled mining firm and sprayed red paint on its walls to put an exclamation point to their protest while vowing to come back bigger, stronger and angrier.

Although they failed to deliver the 2,000 warm bodies they promised to bring with them, the protesters led by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) were not lacking in passion as the four-day march-caravan entered its second day.  They built an effigy of a payloader with a dummy of Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III as driver to symbolize the “collusion of the government and big mining corporations.”

The militants earlier castigated Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo for issuing an order suspending the implementation of the South Cotabato Local Environment Code.

South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Pinggoy however said unless restrained by the proper courts, he will implement the ordinance which was approved by the previous administration of former governor Daisy Fuentes.

Fuentes is now a member of the Philippine House of Representatives.

“We will leave for now but we will be back stronger, bigger and angrier,” Kabataan party list leader Katherine Cortez said after a 30-minute rally in front of the SMI office.

The convoy of protesters left Koronodal City in South Cotabato Tuesday, December 7, and began its journey towards Sulop, Davao del Sur Wednesday.  They are set to again walk and travel to Malalag also in Davao del Sur where they will converge in the town plaza to further dramatize their campaign against SMI.

Meanwhile, Bayan Socsksargen spokesperson Ray Lariba said the lead vehicle of their convoy encountered unidentified motorcycle men riding in tandem in the city outskirts while on their way to Davao del Sur.

“The man in black jacket and red helmet threw spikes (suyak) on the road causing the tires of our lead car to explode in Barangay Batomelong,” he said.

He believed the incident was instigated either by the military or the police.  But he also did not rule out people sympathetic with SMI.

SMI-Xstrata is reportedly planning to put up its power plant as well as port area in Malalag town.

On Friday, the marchers will proceed to Digos City, the last stop of their four-day protest action.  It coincides with the 62nd Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

There they will burn the effigy that could be mistaken for real from afar.

Environmentalists and protesters identified with the militant Left are stepping up their opposition to SMI which has set a 2016 target for full commercial production.

SMI is now in the midst of permitting process and is hoping to obtain environment clearance certificate by 2011.

SMI holds the Tampakan Copper and Gold Project under the Columbio Financial Technical Assistance Agreement.

Early this year, SMI announced that the Tampakan Copper and Gold Project could yield at least 13.5 million tons of copper and 15.8 million ounces of gold, at a grade of 0.6 percent copper and 0.2 grams per ton of gold.

The project could cost more than US$5 billion and reportedly has a lifespan of 50 years.

The mineral development site is located in the hinterland of Tampakan but its area of operations covers portions of the towns of Columbio in Sultan Kudarat, Kiblawan in Davao del Sur and Malungon in Sarangani.

SMI-Xstrata communications supervisor John Arnaldo is on company leave and was not available for an interview, a company source who declined to be identified said.

(Edwin G. Espejo writes for The Asian Correspondent)