Construction firm belies Sagittarius Mines’ claim

KORONADAL CITY  (MindaNews/26 March) — An official of a construction firm belied on Saturday a claim by  Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI) that they’re not a contractor for the mining firm and that the three workers killed Friday afternoon in an ambush in Tampakan, South Cotabato, were “not SMI employees or contractors.”

South Cotabato Governor Arthur Pingoy Jr. on Friday said those who were killed 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.

Unidentified armed men ambushed the convoy of dump trucks owned by LVE Construction, killing three workers and injuring another.

Later in the evening, John B. Arnaldo, SMI corporate communications manager, sent a text message stating, “We can confirm that the victims are not SMI employees or contractors.”

On Saturday morning, Leonardo Escobillo, Jr., the mayor’s son said their construction firm was contracted by SMI  for the graveling of a road the company is maintaining to move around the mines development site.

The younger Escobillo said he suspects the armed men could be members of the New People’s Army.

“If you have problems with our company or with SMI, then address it to us. Please spare our workers,” he said in a radio interview.

Escobillo said the victims were regular employees of their construction firm.

1st Lt. Maria Jessica Leviste, civil military officer of the 27th Infantry Battalion, said 10 unidentified gunmen strafed a convoy of five dump trucks of the LVE Construction at around 1:30 p.m Thursday in Sitio Datalbiao, Barangay Danlag, Tampakan, South Cotabato. The village is part of SMI’s mines development site.

She identified the slain workers as Osias Pizania,driver; and helpers Rommel Vega and Nelson Parasan.

Elmer Magdula was rushed to a hospital here for treatment.

Governor Pingoy had earlier said communist guerrillas could be behind the attack on the workers of the construction company.

Friday’s ambush, although still to be verified if related to the Tampakan project of SMI, was among the several violent incidents in town since the company became active there several years ago.

Last month, a tribal chieftain, Tonio Binuhay, a staunch supporter of the Tampakan project, was shot dead, along with his pregnant wife.

On New Year’s Day in 2008, the NPA rebels attacked the base camp of SMI 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 SMI, also 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 S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)