Moro group joins opposition vs Tampakan project

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/25 February)—A militant Moro organization has added its voice to the opposition against the massive Tampakan copper-gold project of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc.

Arsad Solaiman, chairperson of the Youth for Bangsamoro Genuine Empowerment, has urged President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III to stop Sagittarius Mines from pursuing the Tampakan project “to save the environment and put to halt the pollution of rivers in one of the remaining habitats of the B’laan tribes.”

“The greed of mining companies and their local cohorts have no bound that must be stopped now or the wrath of nature will fall on us sooner than expected,”, the website of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Solaiman, quoted as saying.

President Aquino, in his early days in office, had hinted support to the venture of Sagittarius Mines, which is still in the exploration stage, for its potential to help the economy.

Solaiman backed the claims earlier made by Ryan Lariba, spokesperson of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-Socsksargen, that the Tampakan project is a “catastrophe in the making.”

The Tampakan project is also opposed by the local Catholic Church and the communist New People’s Army.

Lariba last week stressed that Sagittarius Mines must not be allowed to operate in Southwestern Mindanao as its project “is more than just plunder of natural resources, this is catastrophe in the making.”

Sagittarius Mines is controlled by Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer, through its 62.5-percent stake with Australian firm Indophil Resources NL as the minority equity holder.

According to the militant group, Sagittarius Mines “is moving heaven and earth” to extract an estimated 13.5 million tons of copper and 15.8 million ounces of gold.

Sagittarius, whose project straddles the towns of Tampakan in South Cotabato, Columbio in Sultan Kudarat and Kiblawan in Davao del Sur, earlier said the most economical method to extract the minerals is open-pit mining.

The firm is in the process of acquiring an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC), a right given by the government for a proponent to go on commercial production. It completed in the fourth quarter of 2010 the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment, one of the requirements in applying for ECC.

Asking the President to stop the Tampakan project, Lariba said the people of Southwestern Mindanao have long spoken against mining.

Lariba recalled that Western Mining Corp., which originally discovered the Tampakan project, was forced to abandon the project because of the “people’s resistance.”

Lately, the province of South Cotabato also sent a strong signal by passing an environment code that bans open-pit mining method, he added.

All the President needs to do is order Environment Secretary Ramon Paje to reject the ECC application of Sagittarius, he said.

Paje earlier said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources would purge the list of non-moving mining applications and projects to give serious investors the chance to pursue them.

John B. Arnaldo, Sagittarius corporate communications manager, in various occasions repeatedly allayed the fears of critics that the project will pose danger to the environment and human health.

“We will employ the highest standards in the mining industry to mitigate the impact of the project to the environment,” Arnaldo said.

Sagittarius eyes to start commercial operations in 2016. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)