SouthCot gov urges vigilance amid NPA attack in Surigao

T’BOLI, South Cotabato (MindaNews / 6 Oct) – The South Cotabato government has urged for extra vigilance to avoid the possible attack by New People’s Army (NPA) rebels against mining firms operating in the area.

South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Pingoy Jr. made the appeal Thursday in the wake of the NPA attack in Surigao del Norte Monday against Nickel Asia Corp., the country’s largest nickel producer and partly owned by Sumitomo Metal Mining Co. Ltd.

In a disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange on Wednesday, Nickel Asia said they have already resumed operations following the attack, which damaged equipment worth an estimated P500 million.

Pingoy said that police and military personnel in South Cotabato are closely guarding the area even as he claimed that the threat of the NPA in the province “has been eliminated.”

“We are trying to secure all, and so we are on guard [all the time],” he told MindaNews at the sidelines of a health event here.

This town also hosts the large-scale gold-silver project of Canadian firm Cadan Resources Corp. in partnership with the local Tribal Mining Corp.

But while the governor “downplayed” the threats from the communist guerillas, Pingoy said they have monitored NPA recruitment in Barangay Ned [Lake Sebu town] and parts of Tampakan.

Lake Sebu and Tampakan towns are home to huge coal and copper deposits, respectively, with San Miguel Corp. holding rights over the former and Sagittarius Mines, Inc. on the latter.

Pingoy said that government security troops are on top of the situation, noting that last week, internal security efforts have been turned over to the provincial government by the military.

The turnover of internal security came after “assessments that South Cotabato has been cleared from the influence of the communist rebels.”

Pingoy said there has been troops deployment in Tampakan town “but for the purpose of containing” the illegal sluice mining operations, locally called banlas.

He dispelled allegations from local anti-mining groups that the deployment of soldiers in Tampakan was for the protection of Sagittarius Mines, noting that the “government is mandated to ensure the security of everyone.”

It maybe recalled that on New Year’s Day 2008, NPA guerillas stormed the base camp of Sagittarius Mines in the mountains of Tampakan. They burned the administration building and mining equipment worth P12 million.

In January the following year, NPA rebels raided the Tampakan police station downtown, which resulted to the wounding of three policemen and another civilian.

Since then, the NPA rebels have warned future offensives against Sagittarius Mines if it will not pullout its venture also straddling the towns of Columbio in Sultan Kudarat, Kiblawan in Davao del Sur and Malungon in Sarangani.

Sagittarius Mines is controlled by Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer, with Australian firm Indophil Resources NL as the junior equity partner.

The Tampakan project is touted as the largest known undeveloped copper-gold deposit in Southeast Asia, with commercial operations targeted in 2016 notwithstanding the open-pit ban imposed by the South Cotabato government. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)