Sacrifice food security for mining?

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/04 February) — The government’s target to be self-sufficient in rice production by 2013 is “not achievable with mining,” an environmental scientist specializing on economic development said as he claimed thousands of hectares of  ricelands would be affected if the Tampakan project of the Sagittarius Mines’ Inc., is approved.

“This is possibly the most important reason to question the Tampakan project,” Dr. Robert Goodland told the International Conference on Mining in Mindanao (ICMM) on January 27.

He cited eight reasons why SMI’s Tampakan project should not be allowed,  including this “most important reason” labeled  as number 8: “food production trumps questionable mining.”’

Goodland said there are 80,000 farmers cultivating 200,000 hectares downstream in South Cotabato alone and at least  40,000 residents around fish-rich Lake Buluan in  Maguindanao  will be affected and will “likely result in severe unrest” among  the predominantly Moro residents.

SMI’s John Arnaldo, manager of Corporate Communications and Media Relations, did not answer point by point Goodland’s eight reasons when MindaNews sought him for comment, but in his e-mail said they are “deeply disturbed by allegations that we have not followed proper process in disclosing our Mine EIS (Environmental Impact Study) because “the fact is we have not only followed Philippine regulations but exceeded them.”

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources denied on January 3 SMI’s application for Environmental Clearance Certificate (ECC) but only on one ground: the ban on open pit mining imposed by the Environment Code of South Cotabato.

Arnaldo said SMI has filed with the Office of  Environment Secretary Ramon Paje a Motion for Reconsideration of the DENR’s Memorandum denying their ECC application. “We are hopeful that the DENR will reconsider its decision,” he said.

SMI is facing strong opposition from South Cotabato’s provincial government, the Dioceses of South Cotabato, North Cotabato and Davao del Sur and other civil society organizations, as well as the New People’s Army.

“Most dangerous”
South Cotabato Governor Arthur Pingoy told the ICMM on January 27 that the decision to ban open pit mining is a testament to the South Cotabatenos’s desire to protect their environment and that the  matter of maintaining, protecting and enhancing the quality of the environment is “no longer an exclusive responsibility of  the state but an obligation shared by the local government units and its constituents pursuant to the Local Government Code.

“We respect national policies but we also uphold local autonomy,” he said, adding, “who decides for South Cotabato?”

He vowed the ban will remain in force while he is governor.

In a press conference after the opening ceremonies on January 26,  Goodland’s colleague, Clive Montgomery Wicks, conservation and development consultant specializing on the impact of extractive industries, described the Tampakan project as “the most dangerous mines anywhere in the world” while Goodland referred to it as the  “the biggest time bomb Mindanao has ever seen.”

Both Wicks and Goodland are former World Bank consultants.

Wicks said the people of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Davao del Sur and Sarangani provinces “will regret it for many years to come.”

The mining project straddles South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Davao del Sur provinces but Sarangani will also be affected by adverse effects of the mining operations, Wicks said.

He said the mining firm will be operating for some 20 years but residents will have to bear the brunt of the “chaos  for centuries.”

In his presentation to the ICMM on January 27, Goodland said SMI “has now ruled out submarine tailings disposal and the use of cyanide, both of which were proposed, but these huge and highly commendable improvement are similarly under emphasized in the ESIA (Environmental and Social Impact Assessment).

“World class”

SMI submitted its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the Tampakan project,  consisting of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and  the ESIA last year.

In its website, SMI said the EIS was “prepared to meet Philippine regulatory requirements” in support of their application for ECC while the ESIA is “an additional world class report, developed in partnership with international experts that further demonstrates our assessment of potential environmental and social impacts and has been conducted in alignment with relevant international standards. “

It said both the EIS and the ESIA” identify the potential environmental and social impacts of our proposed mining operation and detail our comprehensive mitigation strategies that will form part of our final Environmental Management Plan.”

Goodland’s eight reasons for rejecting the EIA are:  that the 3,000 page-EIA is “kept secret from the potentially impacted stakeholders;” that it did not specify what type of  mine it will be whether open-cast or not; that open pit mining has been banned since the passage of the Environment Code of South Cotabato in June 2010; that the slurry conveyor system, “one of the biggest impacts of the whole project,” was “omitted” from the ESIA; that stakeholders  are against the project; that indigenous peoples’ rights are not being upheld by the Tampakan project; that Mindanao is a  conflict zone and communities surrounding Tampakan are “most militarized;” and that food production trumps questionable mining.

Goodland emphasized that the Tampakan project risks polluting six rivers; that main pollutants are likely to be acid mine drainage, heavy metals, suspended solids; that this could “devastate all fisheries and irrigated crops;” that the region’s biggest river system, the Mal River, will be polluted the most as many streams will be destroyed and replaced by the tailings dam; and that “this is likely to damage agriculture downstream in Davao del Sur/”


Margarita “Maita Gomez,” coordinator of Bantay Kita Action for Economic Reforms,  presented to the ICMM on January 26, findings of a research she made based on government data from 2001 to 2009,  showing that the mining industry’s contributions to Mindanao’s economy are minimal, compared with agriculture.

Gomez said that based on her research culled from government data, agriculture is still the top contributor to the Gross Regional Domestic Product (GRDP) in Mindanao.

She said that in Region 9 (Western Mindanao), the mining industry contributed only 1.06% out of the 15% contribution of the industry sector while agriculture contributed 50% to the GRDP.  In Region 10 (Northern Mindanao), agriculture contributed 30% and industry 31% but out of this, mining contributed only .66% In Southeastern Mindanao (Davao provinces and Compostela Valley), agriculture accounted for 28%; services 41% and 31% industry with mining contributing 3.97%.

Gomez did not specify where the mining contribution came from but it is likely from the small-scale mining operations mostly in Compostela Valley. In Region 12 (Southwestern Mindanao or Socsksargen), mining contributed only .14 % to the GRDP from out of the 31% industry sector’s share. Agriculture still topped the contributions to the region with 42% . Gomez had no figures for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). But in Caraga Region comprising the two Agusans, two Surigaos and Dinagat Islands province – the region hosting the most number of mining tenements, agriculture still contributed the highest at  37%  and 28% from the industry sector, with mining contributing 6.38%.

Gomez said the highest contribution of the mining industry to the Philippines’ Gross Domestic Product between 2000 and 2009 was in 2007, at 1.4%.

“If the Chamber of Mines says the economy will collapse if we irritate them, I don’t think so,” she said, adding that is already the highest. “On the average, it was less than 1%.”

Potential loss of lives

In his presentation, Wicks said SMI’s EIA were “public relations documents rather than EIAs.”

He said the EIA kept the information on potential loss of lives out of the main document, noting it down only on page 42 of the ESIA appendix. The vital information states that “the mine has a high potential for loss of life and high environmental damage if a failure of the dams or waste rock storage facility occurs”.

Wicks said they agree with the findings but “we totally disagree that the mining company can guarantee to design facilities to avoid a disaster eventually.”

In the press conference on January 26,  Wicks said the disaster that happened to the Marcopper mines in Marinduque is “a classic example” of the dangers that residents would also face in the Tampakan mines.

He said Marcopper had a tunnel to release the water from the shaft, built on an area of high seismic activity. At the Tampakan mines, he said,  “it’s gonna be 800 meters deep and it’s  in an area of very high seismic activity. If the tunnel that released the water in Marinduque couldn’t  survive,  how do you think its’ going to survive in Tampakan? They’re (SMI) proposing 2.7 billion tons of toxic waste on top of the mountain, in a pile that’s going to be nearly 300 meters high. It’s going to stay there forever. You’re gonna be left with a mine pit covering 500 hectares filled with toxic water forever.  You’re gonna have two dams one freshwater one tailings dam  which is full of toxic materials. That dam would be 280 meters high, nearly a thousand feet high. We can’t understand how it was ever considered. Its’ a vital  water catchment for all the agriculture in the Koronadal valley, in Sultan Kudarat, in Davao del Sur. I’m sorry to say this but it’s the height of madness to even think of doing it. You should  protect your water catchment forever not destroy them. There’s too much toxic material around.”

He said the provincial government of South Cotabato is right in banning open pit mining to protect their ability to produce and secure food production through protecting biodiversity for current and future generations.”

Arnaldo said their EIS consultation is “unprecedented in this country,” that they have conducted 58 presentations “to a range of stakeholders from the national government to IP groups,” that 9,000 individuals attended their public information sessions “where we have disclosed the Mine EIS technical studies in an open and transparent manner, and in many cases in local dialect.”

Arnaldo also said they have “promptly responded to every request made by any stakeholder to receive a copy of our Mine EIS.”

“We have responded to written letters from groups associated with Mr Goodland, and his colleague and co-author Mr Wicks, when they have asked specific questions about our Mine EIS. In addition, we have offered to meet with these groups in every written response but these requests have been ignored on every occasion. The fact is these people do not want to meet with us and engage in a reasoned and evidence-based discussion about the Project,” said Arnadlo.

He also said all documents relating to the public disclosure of their Mine EIS “are easily accessible via our website.”

He said the EIA fact sheets, and an EIA Overview document as well as the EIS Executive Summary can be easily downloaded from their website and that these are available in three languages, and that the EIS and ESIA documents can be requested via the website and CD copies distributed.

Arnaldo said it is “inaccurate to suggest we have violated our obligations under FPIC (Free and Prior Informed Consent) legislation.”

“The fact is we have had agreements from host IPs for our exploration activities. We also have a good ongoing working relationship with our IPs as evidenced by tribal leaders’ recent public statements to the media in support of the Project,” he said.

Arnaldo also said they are “outraged by the baseless and unethical allegations” made by Mr. Goodland  as he denied “any association with the incident involving Eliezer Billanes, SOCCSKSARGENDS Agenda chair.”

Billanes, who led anti-mining protests against SMI, among others, was gunned down on March 9, 2009 by a still unidentified man who fled with a companion on board a motorcycle. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)