3 dead, 1 wounded in Tampakan ambush

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/25 March) – Three people were killed while another was injured in yet another violent incident on Friday afternoon in Tampakan, South Cotabato, host of the mines development site of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc., officials said.

South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Pingoy Jr. said the victims of the ambush were workers of a construction company owned by Tampakan Mayor Leonardo Escobillo, who were working on a road project in the mountains leading towards the mines development site.

“Initial reports reaching me said the ambush could be the handiwork of the left,” Pingoy told MindaNews, referring to the communist New People’s Army.

The governor did not provide additional details, saying he was still waiting for update reports from the provincial police command.

1Lt. Maria Jessica Leviste, civil military officer of the 27th Infantry Battalion, said that 10 unidentified gunmen strafed a convoy of five dump trucks of LVE Construction.

“Based on our initial investigation, the NPA may have nothing to do with the incident,” Leviste said in a separate phone interview.

Leviste added that military field reports so far indicate that bandits were likely behind the attack, apparently triggered by a land conflict.

The gunmen used Armalite and Garand rifles in the ambush at Sitio Datalbiao in Barangay Danlag, Tampakan, South Cotabato around 1:30 p.m. today, Leviste said. Danlag is part of the mines development site of SMI.

She identified the fatalities as Osias Pizania, a driver; and Rommel Vega and Nelson Parasan, both helpers.

The wounded was identified as Elmer Magdula, who was brought to a hospital in this city for treatment and was since reported to be in safe condition.

John B. Arnaldo, Sagittarius Mines corporate communication manager, said the victims were either not company employees or contractors.

“SMI assisted in bringing the wounded to the Tampakan health center,” he said.

The ambush, although still to be verified if related to the Tampakan project of Sagittarius Mines, was among several violent incidents that already hit the town since the company became active there several years ago.

Last month, a tribal chieftain, Tonio Binuhay, who is stoutly supporting the Tampakan project, was shot dead in Tampakan town. His pregnant wife was also killed in the attack.

On New Year’s Day in 2008, NPA rebels attacked the base camp of Sagittarius Mines in Barangay Tablu in Tampakan town.

The communist rebels burned the firm’s administration office and several mining equipment worth at least P12 million. They also disarmed and took several firearms of the security guards then manning the base camp.

No one was hurt in the attack although the NPA rebels also managed to keep at bay government security forces manning an Army detachment some 500 meters away from the base camp.

Early in 2009, the communist guerrillas, as part also of its campaign against Sagittarius Mines, also successfully attacked the police station of Tampakan town, resulting in the wounding of four people, three of them policemen.

The NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, has warned the mining company to brace for more violent attacks as punishment for “plundering and destroying the nation’s patrimony.”

According to a company study, the Tampakan project could yield an average life of mine annual production rate of 370,000 metric tons and 360,000 ounces of copper and gold, respectively. The initial life mine estimate for the Tampakan project was pegged at 17 years.

The Tampakan project is touted as the largest known undeveloped copper-gold deposit in Southeast Asia.

Based on its study, Sagittarius Mines will employ open-pit mining to extract the massive deposit, a method banned by the provincial government of South Cotabato. Several sectors have been pushing for an amendment to the prohibition. (Bong Sarmiento / MindaNews)