Mining forum in Koronadal draws thousands; SMI GM a no-show

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/23 September)—Thousands of people packed the South Cotabato gymnasium Friday for the public forum on the environmental impact assessment (EIA) study of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines Inc.

The crowd, consisting mostly of anti-mining groups mobilized by the local Catholic Church, spilled outside as the estimated 6,000-capacity gymnasium could no longer accommodate them.

South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Pingoy Jr. organized the event in a bid to help members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan arrive at an “informed decision” regarding requests to amend the provincial environment code that bans open-pit mining.

Pingoy, who distributed wristbands with the words “I Love South Cotabato,” reiterated he will implement the ban on open-pit mining unless the provincial board lifts it or if a court nullifies the ordinance.

Experts hired by the mining company presented a shortened version of the EIA, after they were given two-and-a-half hours, much longer than the time allotted to experts from the opposing side who were only given one-and-a-half hours.

Technical experts from the side of the company far outnumbered those from the opposing side, with Clive Wicks, co-author of the book “Philippines: Mining or Food,” doing the presentation for the critics.

Wicks’ co-author, Robert Goodland, who worked for the World Bank Group for 23 years as senior environmental advisor, was unable to make it reportedly due to financial constraints.

Wicks asserted that the mining project of SMI poses risk to the environment and food security, despite the mitigating measures presented by experts hired by the mining company.

“The [mining] project will damage agriculture, the lake downstream…and increases risk to flooding,” he said.

At one point, Wicks asked how many people would die if the drainage system facility (DSF), which would be constructed in Kiblawan, Davao del Sur, would overflow.

Company experts failed to provide a categorical answer, saying only that a complete DSF failure would lead water downstream to the Padada River in Davao del Sur.

But Elvie Grace Ganchero, SMI corporate community and sustainability department manager, gave assurances that catastrophic scenarios like that “won’t happen as the company employs the highest mitigation standards.”

She reiterated that open-pit mining is for now the only resort should the company decides to push the project through in 2016.

Ganchero also vowed they “will not push with the project” if the communities do not like it.

Mark Williams, SMI general manager, was not around during the public forum due to a “high-level representation,” said John Arnaldo, SMI corporate communications manager.

Williams, who last year met with then governor and now Rep. Daisy Avance Fuentes in a bid to stop her from signing the environment code, was seen Wednesday in General Santos City.

Williams has been personally representing the company in national mining summits in Manila.

Speaking during the public forum, Diocese of Marbel Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez urged the public to continue supporting the environment code that bans open-pit mining.

“Members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan need not change it,” the bishop said.

Gutierrez thanked SMI for participating in the forum, but stressed that mining is a destructive industry. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)