GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/03 October) – Three Catholic bishops in Mindanao are seeking an audience with President Benigno Simeon Aquino III to directly present at least 100,000 signatures of local residents who were reportedly opposing the planned large-scale gold and copper mining project of foreign-backed mining firm Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) in the area.
Fr. Joy Peliño, Social Action Center director of the Diocese of Marbel, said Monday the bishops of the dioceses of Marbel, Kidapawan and Digos are currently arranging a possible meeting with the President to relay the people’s “strong opposition” to SMI’s mining venture in the mountainous tri-boundaries of South Cotabato, Davao del Sur and Sultan Kudarat provinces.
He said the bishops are still waiting for Malacanang’s response regarding the requested audience with the President.
The three dioceses launched last August a signature drive targeting at least 100,000 names in a bid to compel the President to stop SMI’s proposed mining activities.
“We have so far gathered around 110,000 signatures. Hopefully, the meeting (with the President) will materialize soon so we can show to him the real sentiments of the people regarding SMI’s operations,” Peliño said in a radio interview.
SMI’s Tampakan Copper-Gold Project is centered in the towns of Tampakan in South Cotabato, Kiblawan in Davao del Sur and Columbio in Sultan Kudarat.
The three municipalities are separately under the jurisdiction of the three Catholic dioceses.
Peliño said the “overwhelming response” by residents to their signature campaign shows that majority of the local population understands the perils posed by the mining project, which was set by the firm to commence by the year 2016.
“Most residents are now aware that the mining project only offers more risks than benefits to the people and the environment,” he said.
In a forum in Koronadal City two weeks ago, British expert Clive Wicks cited that SMI’s mining project poses serious risk to the area’s environment and food security.
Wicks, co-author of the book “Philippines: Mining or Food,” said the project “will damage agriculture, the lake downstream…and increases risk to flooding.”
The study was done by Wicks in collaboration with Robert Goodland, who worked for the World Bank Group for 23 years as senior environmental advisor.
SMI, which is controlled by global mining player Xstrata Copper, recently presented to local stakeholders the results of its commissioned Environmental Impact Assessment, a document essential in acquiring an environmental clearance certificate for the firm’s commercial operations.
The Tampakan project will cost $5.9 billion at commercial development, potentially the largest single foreign direct investment in the Philippines.
The company’s proposed mining area, which reportedly hosts the largest undeveloped copper and gold deposits in Southeast Asia, has a potential yield of 370,000 metric tons of copper and 360,000 ounces of gold annually.
In June last year, the provincial government of South Cotabato adopted an environmental code that includes a ban on open-pit mining, a method being considered by SMI for its proposed commercial operations.
President Aquino earlier sent a team to negotiate for the lifting of the open-pit ban but South Cotabato officials, led by Gov. Arthur Pingoy, have stood pat on their decision to implement the mining prohibition in the province. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)