TAMPAKAN, SouthCotabato —Tribal communities within heart of the mines development site of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI) have set up barricades anew in the latest show of opposition to the Tampakan copper gold project.
Journalists, upon invitation by the local Catholic Church, on Saturday saw at least five roadblocks spanning barangays Danlag in Tampakan, South Cotabato and Kiblawan in Davao del Sur.
Lumad (indigenous peoples) communities in the hamlets of Bongsbang and Alyong in Barangay Danlag in Tampakan and Nakultanaand Lapla in Bongmal District of Barangay Kimlawis set up the barricades to oppose the company’s relocation plan for them.
The roads blocked by the B’laan tribe serve as crucial arteries for the mining firm to move around the mountains.
The roadblocks, according to several members of the tribe who spoke through an interpreter, were established after SMI posted tarpaulins outlining the terms for its proposed relocation project, without allegedly explaining to them what it was all about.
Most of the Lumads could not read or write or understand Cebuano, the language used in the tarpaulin notice.
SMI’s tarpaulins announced that March 22 would be the cut-off date for those who would want inclusion in the relocation plans.
If the Lumads fail to beat the deadline, they will not receive any compensation for infrastructure and farms that will be affected by the mining project, the tarpaulins said.
The cut-off date would likewise signal the start of the census or survey of those who will be affected by the project, it said.
“The community was shocked by the relocation notice. I don’t want my family relocated,” Juli Samling, father of three, told MindaNews.
“Here in our community, everything is almost free. You have a land where you can plant to put food oin the table. In the relocation site, you have to pay for everything to sustain the family,” added Samling, a cousin of Dalina Samling, the tribal chieftain in Barangay Danlag who supports the Tampakan copper-gold project.
Samling said the barricades were set-up by the community members on their own volition.
“This mining project only benefits the few like the tribal chieftains, the military, and those in the lowlands,” Kidtol Sagandi said through an interpreter.
Across the villages of Danlag and Kimlawis, the military has set up detachments in strategic locations.
In a press conference last week in Koronadal City, Col. Alexis Bravo said their presence within the Tampakan mining project is not intended to intimidate the tribal communities into supporting the venture of Sagittarius Mines.
He said the Tampakan project is facing threats from the communist New People’s Army and “we don’t want to give them an opportunity to strike again.”
He recalled the incident on NewYear’s Day 2008 when the rebels burned the base camp of SMI in Barangay Tablu, Tampakan town.
Fr. Guillarme Joy Peliño, Social Action Center director of the Diocese of Marbel, said the barricades initiated by the Lumads are an expression of their discontent.
“They have spoken and their voices should be respected by the company,” he said.
Peliño denied allegations that the local Catholic Church egged the Lumads into setting up the barricades.
But in the chokepoint at Sitio Lamla, tribal leader Flao Saluli said they set up the barricade not because they are opposed to the mining project of SagittariusMines.
“We are supportive of the mining project only that we have problems with their commitments. If we can settle it, which should include concerned government and private organizations, then no problem,” Saluli said.
N9ioBut he also questioned the continued activities of SMI in the mines development site, showing the January 9, 2012 letter of Juan Miguel Cuna, national director of the Environmental Management Bureau, to Peter Forrestal, president of Sagittarius Mines.
Cuna told Forrestal “to refrain from undertaking any development activity in areas mentioned in the application for ECC until the same is issued in your favor including permits from concerned government units.”
In an e-mailed statement on Sunday, John Arnaldo, Sagittarius Mines corporate communication manager, said they have conducted initial dialogues with the tribal and barangay council leaders of the “project-affected persons” (PAPs) who may be resettled if theTampakan copper-gold project is approved.
Arnaldo said the consultation process is in accordance with the Philippine government’s regulatory requirements, relevant International Finance Corp. standards of the World Bank and the policies of SMI and its managing shareholder, Xstrata Copper.
As part of the resettlement consultation process, SMI posted the cut-off date to serve as reference of assets as of 22 March, Arnaldo said.
“This process has been widely appreciated by the respective tribal and barangay council leaders of affected communities, and for them to communicate this to their community members,” he said.
“But in the case of Bong Mal, there was a lack in disseminating this to some community members,” Arnaldo admitted.
He said the company will continue to work with the community leaders to further explain the cut-off date concern, and ensure all affected stakeholders are informed and consulted on all resettlement activities.
“The company recognizes its obligation to the indigenous peoples and affected communities and we respect their rights,” he said. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)