3 Mindanao dioceses gather signatures vs. Tampakan project

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/1 September) – Three Catholic dioceses in Mindanao have launched a signature campaign for President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III to stop the mining venture of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc., a priest confirmed on Thursday.

Fr. Gillarme Joy Pelino, Social Action Center director of the Diocese of Marbel, identified the other dioceses that also initiated a signature campaign against Sagittarius Mines’ Tampakan project as Digos and Kidapawan.

“So far we have gathered 80,000 signatures in opposition to the Tampakan project since we started less than a month ago,” he told MindaNews, adding they are targeting 100,000 signatures for submission to Malacañang.

The Tampakan project, which straddles the towns of Tampakan in South Cotabato, Kiblawan in Davao del Sur, and Columbio in Sultan Kudarat, is under the jurisdiction of the three dioceses.

Tampakan town, where the bulk of the huge copper and gold deposits sit, is under the Diocese of Marbel; Kiblawan town is under the Digos Diocese; and Columbio town is under the Kidapawan Diocese.

Marbel Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez said in a petition letter, written in Ilonggo, to gather the signatures that they initiated the move as Sagittarius Mines is gearing towards the final completion this year of its Environmental Impact Assessment, a document essential in acquiring an environmental clearance certificate that would allow it to commercially operate the minefield.

In asking for signatures, he cited the various stances of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines that seeks the scrapping of the Mining Act of 1995 or Republic Act 7942.

Gutierrez also emphasized the environment code of South Cotabato, which bans open-pit-mining, in urging the President to stop the Tampakan project.

“The Tampakan project has long affected our communities. We have not felt the responsible mining trumpeted by the government and the mining companies,” he said.

The bishop noted that since the time of Western Mining Corp., the previous owner of the Tampakan project, the mining venture “only caused division among families and communities.”

Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer, exercises management supervision at the Tampakan project through its 62.5-percent controlling equity at Sagittarius Mines, with Australian firm Indophil Resources NL as the junior partner.

Touted as the largest known undeveloped  copper-gold deposit in Southeast Asia, the Tampakan project has the potential to yield 370,000 metric tons of copper and 360,000 ounces of gold annually. The initial life mine estimate for the Tampakan project was pegged at 17 years.

The Tampakan project will cost $5.9 billion at commercial development, potentially the largest single foreign direct investment in the Philippines. It is targeted to go on commercial stream in 2016.

In his early days in office, President Aquino issued a directive that seeks to thresh out the open-pit ban imposed by the provincial government of South Cotabato, a move lauded by Sagittarius Mines since the company considers the prohibition as a political risk.

Based on the plan of the local Catholic Church, Bishop Gutierrez will personally hand the petition and signatures against the operation of Sagittarius Mines to the President to persuade him to change his mind.

John B. Arnaldo, Sagittarius Mines corporate communications manager, earlier said the company “respects the views of critics.” (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)