KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/22 April) — Hundreds of protesters flocked to Tampakan, South Cotabato to mark Earth Day on Sunday morning only to be blocked before they could march in the rich copper-gold fields assigned to Sagittarius Mines, Inc., Ryan Lariba, spokesperson of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan in the SOCCSKSARGEN Region, said.
Lariba said their Solidarity Mission caravan was blocked in Barangay Pula Bato en route to the mines development site.
“This is plain harassment, we only want to peacefully air our support to the Lumads (indigenous peoples) who are against the Tampakan mining project,” he said in a telephone interview.
Lariba said some 500 individuals on board several vehicles from the religious, indigenous peoples and militant groups were bound for Bong Mal but two pick-up vehicles stood on their way.
He accused Sagittarius Mines and the 27th Infantry Battalion to be behind the blockade.
Bong Mal is the boundary between Tampakan town and Kiblawan, Davao del Sur that serves as a crucial artery in the mines development site.
John Arnaldo, Sagittarius Mines, corporate communications manager, said the company is are of plans by some anti-mining groups to stage protest rallies and that it has “has always respected, and will continue to respect, the rights of communities to express their views and concerns through peaceful protest.”
“A commitment to ethical behavior guides SMI’s approach to how it responds to actions by stakeholders and how it conducts its business,” he said, adding the company is “committed to open and transparent engagement,” he said.
Lt. Col Alexis Noel Bravo, 27th IB commander, denied the military was behind the effort to block the solidarity mission from proceeding to Bong Mal.
“It’s the IP (indigenous peoples) supportive of the Tampakan project that blocked the road. We have no troops on the road,” he told reporters.
Bravo said he strictly “ordered his troops deployed in the mines development site to stay on their detachment” and for them to be prepared as reaction forces in case an accident would happen.
The road towards the mines development site is treacherous and dangerous, he said.
Portions of the way to Bong Mal have stiff inclines accessible only by four-wheel drive vehicles.
The protesters were on board jeepneys, elf truck and multi-cabs, said Lariba.
Laribsa said they decided to turn back due to security considerations.
He said they were supposed to have pit stops in eight communities in Bong Mal.
Still, he claimed “victory for their thwarted activity as the mining company has become desperate that it employed such a trick.”
Lariba said they “feel disappointed” that they could not show their solidarity to the tribal communities in Bong Mal that are opposed to the Tampakan project.
For some weeks now, members of the B’laan tribe in Bong Mal have set up their own barricades against Sagittarius Mines, in protest of the mining firm’s plan to relocate them out of their ancestral lands.
Arnaldo said that through the years, SMI has been investing in “communication and engagement activities that will help our stakeholders, especially the host communities, eventually arrive at an informed decision on our proposed plans and programs for the Tampakan Project.”
“As many from our communities will attest, SMI has always conducted its business through genuine partnerships by working ethically, responsibly, openly and with others,” he aid.
Arnaldo added SMI will continue to talk openly with stakeholders about its plans. “This includes engaging in facts-based, reasoned discussions with those opposed to the Tampakan Project in the spirit of transparency,” he said.
The Tampakan project is touted as the largest known undeveloped copper-gold deposit in Southeast Asia.
The estimated contained copper at Tampakan has risen from 13.9 million metric tons to 15 million MT while estimated contained gold has risen from 16.2 million ounces to 17.9 M oz, according to the latest company study.
In January, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) rejected Sagittarius Mines’ application for an environmental compliance certificate, citing the unresolved open-pit mining ban imposed by South Cotabato province.
The company filed a motion for reconsideration but the DENR has yet to issue a decision. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)