Aerial inspection set for Tampakan mine amid security concerns

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/15 April)—South Cotabato officials will conduct an inspection at the mines development site of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc., but on a plane rather than via land due to security concerns caused by a string of violent incidents in the area, Gov. Arthur Pingoy, Jr. said early this week.

Pingoy said the aerial inspection next week on a yet to be fixed date would determine the extent of damage wrought by small-scale illegal mining operations in the tenement of Sagittarius Mines.

“Two hectares of the mountains were already reportedly damaged by banlas,” said Pingoy, referring to the illegal sluice mining operation, a method which employs the pouring of large amounts of water on a mountain’s surface to extract the rocks containing the gold ore.

The governor, in a local radio interview, said they will conduct an aerial inspection after reports indicated the sightings of armed men in the mines development site.

Late last month, three workers of a contractor for Sagittarius Mines were killed when armed men ambushed their convoy in Barangay Danlag in Tampakan town, one of the villages straddled by the firm’s Tampakan copper-gold project.

A B’laan tribal leader who opposed Sagittarius Mines’ operation, Dagil Capion, was later tagged as the alleged leader of the armed men who perpetrated the ambush, according to the local military.

Before the deadly attack, which is just among the several bloodbaths that have stained the soils within the Tampakan project blamed on the mining venture, Capion helped the local Catholic Church in waging opposition against Sagittarius Mines.

Aside from the local Catholic Church opposition, the Tampakan project is facing a violent resistance from the communist New People’s Army rebels.

In two separate occasions since New Year’s Day 2008, the communist guerrillas attacked and burned the base camp of the mining firm in Barangay Tablu and stormed the municipal police station in Tampakan.

Fr. Romeo Catedral, social action director of the Diocese of Marbel, said that not all tribal communities within the mines development site support the venture of Sagittarius Mines, contrary to the claims of public relations officials of the company.

“These community members were apparently misled…they were only told about the positive impact of the project but not the negative such as the destruction of their mountain,” the priest said earlier.

Catedral said that a multi-sectoral team recently concluded a fact-finding mission within the Tampakan project following the ambush last month.

He declined to release their findings on Thursday, saying they are still consolidating the report but assured it will be disclosed to the public.

John Arnaldo, Sagittarius Mines corporate communications manager, has repeatedly said the company “respects the views of the critics,” and assured that “responsible mining” would be pursued if ever the company goes into commercial stream.

President Benigno S. Aquino III, who was in General Santos City on Thursday for a national prosecutor’s convention, told reporters that “sentiments of local communities must prevail whether or not a mining project should be pursued.”

“For mining in general, in my personal opinion, if the community doesn’t want it, then they should be followed,” the President said.

The statement was made in response to a question regarding the national government’s response to an open-pit mining ban in South Cotabato, which poses an obstacle to the firm’s Tampakan project.

“This is why we need to reach a compromise between national and local government objectives to ensure benefits to the government and communities, and at the same time, prevention of environmental exploitation,” Aquino said. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)