Church unfazed by mining firm’s show of economic gains

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/28 June) — The local Catholic Church won’t ease up its campaign against the Tampakan copper-gold mining project of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc. despite the company’s economic contribution as contained in its sustainability report set to be launched Wednesday in Davao City.

“Our opposition against SMI’s open-pit method is non-negotiable,” said Fr. Romeo Catedral, social action director of the Diocese of Marbel.

According to the 50-page Tampakan Project Sustainability Report 2010, the company contributed P2.5 billion to the Philippine economy last year, which includes the local purchase of goods and services worth P656.1 million.

The company said it also paid P399 million in taxes and fees, of which P2.6 million or less than one percent went to the local government units.

But Allan Yaphockun, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry governor for Southwestern Mindanao, wondered where the company’s local expenditures went.

“I could not see or feel the so-called benefits of the Tampakan project to the local economy,” Yaphockun, a hardware store owner here, said in a separate interview.

Meanwhile, security and social acceptability continue to hound the Tampakan copper-gold project of Sagittarius Mines, Inc last year, the company’s sustainability report also stressed.

Mark Williams, Sagittarius Mines general manager, said the two factors were given increased focus because they were the major challenges during the period.

Xstrata Copper owns 62.5 percent of the controlling equity at Sagittarius Mines, which in 2008 and 2009 suffered from successful attacks launched by the communist New People’s Army rebels.

The first was the burning of the company’s base camp in the mountains of Tampakan town and the second was the communist guerrillas’ raid of the municipal police station in the poblacion area. Sagittarius Mines lost at least P12 million in the base camp attack, while three policemen were injured in the next NPA offensive.

“Regional security continued to be a challenge for SMI in 2010, resulting in the temporary suspension of field activities on two occasions. The most serious incident occurred in December, when two security guards were injured in a shooting incident by unknown person(s) while on post in Datal Alyong, Tablu, in Tampakan,” Williams said in the report.

He added the company takes the safety of its employees and contractors very seriously and that they continue to closely monitor security situations in the region.

Last March, however, three workers of a construction company contracted by Sagittarius Mines for a road graveling project were killed in an ambush within the mines development site.

Williams said that as part of the security precautions of Sagittarius Mines, workers were provided with regular updates and guidance in relation to security matters and continue to work with key stakeholders to improve security in the region.

The mining executive also said the approval of the South Cotabato Environment Code last year was disappointing.

The environment code bans open-pit mining, the method Sagittarius Mines was eyeing to extract massive copper and gold resources for its planned commercial operations in 2016.

Several quarters have asked for a review of the open-pit ban, but the provincial board has yet to decide on the request.

“I am confident that through our responsible partnerships, continued dialogue and engagement with our key stakeholders, an amicable resolution will be found,” Williams said. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)