Marchers begin long trek against Xstrata-SMI

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/07 December) — Protesters made up mostly of farmers and indigenous peoples kicked of a five-day long caravan-march in Digos City in Davao del Sur to dramatize their opposition to the continued presence of mining giant Xstrata-Sagittarius Mines Inc (SMI) in four provinces south of Mindanao.

In a repeat of last year’s similar protest action, the march will culminate on Human Rights Day in Koronadal City.

The marchers are hoping the provincial government of South Cotabato will remain steadfast against the 2016 planned open pit mining operation of Xstrata-SMI.

Last year, the province adopted an ordinance banning open pit mining, a legal obstacle the mining firm has to hurdle before it can go full swing with its commercial operation.

SMI is now in the process of obtaining government clearances after it had already validated earlier exploration activities in the quad-boundaries of Kiblawan in Davao del Sur, Columbio Sultan Kudarat, Malungon in Sarangani and Tampakan in South Cotabato.

“The company is now more aggressive eyeing to fully operate in 2016. Thus, strong resistance is the recourse the people should take up to drive out this giant and most environmentally destructive mining company in the region” said Ryan Lariba, secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan which is leading the protest activity.

Lariba said they expect their ranks to swell to more than 3,000 by the time they reach Koronadal City on December 10.

After starting the march-caravan with a rally in Digos City on Tuesday, the marchers proceeded to the town of Sulop in Davao del Sur where they pitched camp in the evening.  They are scheduled to proceed to Malungon in Sarangani today before holding a torch parade later in the evening in General Santos City.

Organizers of the protest action said they will hold a rally in front of the main office of SMI in the city the following day.

SMI owns the Tampakan Copper and Gold Project which is covered by the Columbio Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement.

The agreement allows SMI to extract copper and gold ore deposits in the remote forested village of Tablu in Tampakan.

The annual average production rate of the Tampakan project could go as high as 370,000 tons of copper and 350,000 tons of gold, according to company studies submitted to the government in April this year.

The project however is also being opposed by environmentalists and the Catholic Church in three dioceses where SMI is operating.

Armed resistance is also picking up against the mining company.  Last week, armed B’laan residents disarmed company guards keeping close watch of continuing drilling activities in Tablu village.  They took away eight high-powered firearms and handguns from the security guards.

In addition, the communist-led New People’s Army has also repeatedly launched armed attacks against the company. (Edwin G. Espejo/MindaNews)