Tampakan mining project feared to repeat ‘Sendong’ tragedy

MANILA (MindaNews/24 December) — The devastating flash floods that struck Northern Mindanao and killed at least 1,100 residents on December 17 can be repeated” in Southwestern Mindanao if the large-scale Tampakan copper-gold project of  Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI) will be allowed to proceed, a local militant group warned.

Tropical storm Sendong (international name “Washi”) brought rains that flooded the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan and parts of Bukidnon province.

Ryan Lariba, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-SOCKSARGEN secretary general, said that mining and logging ventures in the hinterlands of Mindanao has caused wanton environmental destruction and deforestation.

He urged the Aquino government to refrain from allowing these destructive industries to operate, particularly in Mindanao.

SMI, controlled by Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer, plans to go on commercial stream in 2016 for its Tampakan copper-gold project.

The project site straddles the towns of Tampakan in South Cotabato, Columbio in Sultan Kudarat and Kiblawan in Davao del Sur.

Lariba said the tragedies that struck in the National Capital Region in 2009 – Ondoy – and in Northern Mindanao recently would also happen in the region comprising South Cotabato, Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat and North Cotabato and the cities of General Santos, Koronadal, Tacurong, Kidapawan and Cotabato,  should the giant company Xstrata-SMI and other environmentally destructive projects continue its operations, according to Lariba.

“We shouldn’t allow this to happen in our region as they (will) continue to destroy our environment, mountains, forest and rivers,” he said, adding that once Sagittarius Mines is done and will leave, the localities will be vulnerable to disasters and calamities.

Sought for comment on Saturday, John Arnaldo, SMI corporate communications manager, said they have “conducted extensive consultations” with their key stakeholders and communities since 2009 regarding their views and concerns about the project.

“To address these concerns, their feedback has been seriously considered in our plans, designs and mitigating safeguards, which are based on international standards,” he said in a text message.

He added that these were presented to their stakeholders and communities during the public consultations for the environmental impact statement held starting the second half of this year.

In earlier interviews, Arnaldo maintained the company would employ stringent measures to mitigate the impact of their mining project to the environment, noting the millions of dollars already spent for studies on the different aspects of the venture.

While still in the exploration stage, Arnaldo pointed out that they have initiated a massive tree-planting project within and outside the mines development site.

On the devastating floods recently in Northern Mindanao, he said the mining firm was saddened by the tragic incident and that they have been doing their share to help the families of the victims.

According to Lariba, the national government has allotted 597,000 hectares for mining in Southwestern Mindanao and the province of Davao del Sur, of which 50,000 hectares will allegedly be used by Sagittarius Mines.

He said the company “has no social acceptability” with the opposition from church-backed groups and even tribal members who have armed themselves out of disgust to the company’s presence.

Sagittarius Mines is also facing an obstacle with the open-pit ban imposed by the South Cotabato provincial government.

Groups supportive of the Tampakan project asked the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of South Cotabato last year to review the environment code for the possible lifting of the ban on open-pit mining method.

To date, however, the board members have yet to render a decision.

South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Pingoy Jr. has maintained that he will implement the open-pit ban unless the provincial legislative body lifts it or if a court nullifies it.

Aside from the political and social obstacles, the Tampakan project is also facing security threats from the communist New People’s Army.

On two separate occasions since 2008, the communist guerillas have successfully mounted attacks against Sagittarius Mines. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)