100,000 signatures vs Tampakan mining to land at Palace doors

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/12December)—At least 100,000 signatures gathered in three Mindanao dioceses against the Tampakan copper-gold project will be submitted to Malacanang to persuade President Benigno S. Aquino III to issue a directive stopping the foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines Inc. from proceeding, an official said Saturday.

Rene Pamplona, advocacy officer of the Diocese of Marbel’s Social Action Center, said he will submit the signatures on December 14, upon the instruction of local religious leaders, to the Palace.

“We are hoping that the President will listen to the ‘voice’ of the people…with these signatures,” he told MindaNews.

The submission of the signatures, gathered within the dioceses of Marbel, Kidapawan and Digos, came as a result of Malacanang’s apparent failure to grant the bishops a meeting, Pamplona said.

He added that they have submitted a few months back a letter requesting the President to meet with bishops Dinualdo D. Gutierrez (Marbel) Romulo T. dela Cruz (Kidapawan) and Guillermo V. Afable (Digos).

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.

Marbel Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez said in the petition letter, written in Ilonggo, 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 compliance certificate that would allow it to proceed with commercial operations.

In asking for signatures, he cited the various stances of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines that seek 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% 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 a political risk.

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