Bishops in Tampakan mining project site: “We cannot support this project”

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/15 December) — Three Mindanao bishops in the areas where the Tampakan copper-gold project of the Sagittarius Mines, Inc. reiterated in their joint statement Wednesday that they
cannot support the project.

“As pastors of the flock, (we) are deeply troubled and concerned on the irreversible damage to the environment particularly to the biodiversity and the last remaining forest, livelihood, food security, health and of the poor communities both of the indigenous people’s and the downstream communities,” Bishops Dinualdo Gutierrez, Romulo dela Cruz and Guillermo Afable said in their statement.

Gutierrez heads the Diocese of  Marbel in South Cotabato, dela Cruz heads the Diocese of  Kidapwan in North Cotabato and Afable heads the Diocese of Digos in Davao del Sur.

The Tampakan minesite straddles the three provinces. “I have serious reservations about the humongous scale of the project…It fails to convince me that the good which can be expected of the project will outweigh the harm that it brings to man and nature alike. As it stands, I cannot support the project,” the statement quoted Bishop dela Cruz as saying.

The bishops noted that the Tampakan project “will go against” President Benigno C. Aquino III’s seven strategic priorities to combat climate change namely food security, water sufficiency, ecosystem and environmental stability, human security, climate smart industries and services, sustainable energy, and knowledge and capacity development.

One serious emerging condition in the IP (Indigenous Peoples) communities’ defense of their  ancestral lands, is the escalation of violence, the statement said.

Fr. Rey Ondap, of the Catholic Mission on Indigenous Peoples, was quoted as saying that “because of strong opposition, tensions (have become) prevalent.”

“We must avoid the escalation of violence,” Bishop Gutierrez said.

After 17 to 20 years Sagittarius Mines will approximately mine 6.375 million tonnes of copper (375, 000 tonnes per annum) and 6.120 million ounces of gold (360, 000 ounces per annum of gold) in concentrate, the
statement said.

“Who will manage those huge infrastructure?” the bishops asked, calling for a moratorium “to seriously adhere to the voice of the communities.”

Bishop Afable expressed concern on the impact of the mining project on fresh water supply. He also expressed misgivings about the tailings dam.

The $76 million environmental impact assessment cost allocated by Sagittarius Mines is not enough to study the impact of mining on the bio-diverse area, the statement noted.

According to the bishops, it still leaves five general impacts that are not adequately answered such as  the displacement and resettlement of onsite households; the loss of onsite forest lands and biodiversity
resources; the diversion of surface and groundwater for the use of the mine and the displacement of existing in-stream and off stream users; the acid drainage, spillage, leakages, overflows and the pollution of
natural water source; and the risks of a tailings dam failure or collapse.

John Arnaldo, Sagittarius Mines corporate communications manager, has consistently said the company “respects the views” of those against the project.

He has repeatedly assured that  the environmental safety measures for the Tampakan project is within the standards acceptable to government regulatory bodies. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)