Military secures mine sites in South Cotabato

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/13 October) – Government troops operating in South Cotabato province beefed up their presence in several mining areas in the wake of last week’s daring attacks by communist rebels on three mining firms in Surigao del Norte.

Lt. Col. Alexis Noel Bravo, commander of the 27th Infantry Battalion, said Thursday they assigned additional troops to help secure the operations and vital facilities of several mining companies that are presently based in the province.

“Mining companies are always potential targets of the NPA (New People’s Amy) as we’ve seen in Surigao. So we’ve taken up some security measures to prevent similar incidents from happening within our area of responsibility,” Bravo said.

The Army’s 27th IB area of responsibility covers the entire province of South Cotabato and portions of Sultan Kudarat and Davao del Sur provinces.

The mining operations in the province are mainly based in the municipalities of Tampakan, T’boli and Lake Sebu.

Foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) is currently exploring the mountains of Tampakan and nearby towns of Kiblawan in Davao del Sur and Columbio in Sultan Kudarat for its proposed large-scale copper and gold mining operations in the area.

Canadian-backed Tribal Mining Corporation is operating a gold and silver mining venture in T’boli town while conglomerate San Miguel Corporation is currently working on a coal mining project in the mountains of Lake Sebu town.

Bravo said they are currently reviewing the security plans and related arrangements employed by mining firms in the area.

He said they are mainly concerned with the security arrangements for the employees and facilities of the mining companies.

He said they were also closely coordinating with mining company officials to check whether they received any extortion demands from NPA rebels.

“So far, it’s been negative. We have not received any report regarding movements by the NPA within our mining areas here in the past several weeks,” the official said.

On Monday last week, some 200 to 300 NPA rebels attacked Nickel Asia Corporation, Taganito High-Pressure Acid Leaching Mining Company (THPAL-Sumitomo) and Platinum Metals Group. Reported estimates placed the damage at between P500 million and P2 billion.

Several years ago, NPA rebels also launched several attacks on the facilities and heavy equipment commissioned by SMI in the mountains of Tampakan town.

In one of the attacks, the rebels raided and torched the company’s main base camp in Barangay Tablu in Tampakan.

But Bravo said the presence of the NPA rebels in Tampakan town has so far diminished due to their successful dismantling of the NPA’s Front 76, the main rebel front that had operated in the area.

Late last month, the Eastern Mindanao Command turned over the lead role of the internal security efforts to the provincial government of South Cotabato following the “clearing” of the communist rebels from the area.

“Right now, we have one rifle platoon deployed in Tampakan to secure everyone there and not only SMI,” Bravo added. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)