KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/26 July) — The presence of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc. has caused a boundary dispute between South Cotabato and Davao del Sur, an official confirmed on Tuesday.
South Cotabato Vice Governor Elmo Tolosa said that members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of both provinces have been trying to thresh out the conflict triggered by the operations of the mining firm.
“Last year, Sagittarius Mines paid local taxes to Kiblawan town [in Davao del Sur], prompting an uproar from local officials of Tampakan town [in South Cotabato],” Tolosa told reporters.
As of noontime Tuesday, Sangguniang Panlalawigan or provincial board members from South Cotabato were waiting for their counterparts from Davao del Sur to arrive at the capitol here for their third meeting to thresh out the problem.
Tolosa said the tug-of-war on the local tax payment of Sagittarius Mines involved an amount of nearly P3 million.
Sagittarius Mines is eyeing to develop the Tampakan project, touted as the largest known undeveloped copper-gold deposit in Southeast Asia. It is stoutly opposed by the local Catholic Church and faces security risks from the communist New People’s Army rebels.
Tolosa said members of both provincial legislatures have initially agreed to split evenly the local taxes due from Sagittarius Mines covering the disputed area.
However, the 50-50 sharing scheme involving taxes for the use of the disputed area has yet to be formally forged between the parties, he added.
The disputed area involves 4,500 hectares in Bong Mal, where Sagittarius Mines has set up a camp for its exploration activities, a company official who requested anonymity said.
Members of both provincial boards are trying to settle the boundary dispute amicably because court proceedings would be a long process, he told reporters.
Tolosa said they are planning to conduct a joint session so they will have official jurisdiction on the case, and for the matter not to reach the courts.
Should they reached a formal agreement, Tolosa said the 50-50 tax sharing scheme would take effect starting next year.
He denied that going after taxes due to South Cotabato from Sagittarius Mines means that the provincial lawmakers are leaning towards a review of the controversial provincial environment code that bans open-pit mining.
Tolosa stressed that they are just doing the appropriate thing since the province ought to receive tax payments from the operations of businesses in the area.
Sagittarius Mines, whose main office is in Tampakan town, has declared it will employ open-pit method in extracting the huge mineral deposits.
The company is controlled by Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer, with Australian firm Indophil Resources NL as minority equity holder. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)