Municipal board OK for Tampakan project stirs controversy

TAMPAKAN, South Cotabato (MindaNews/30 April) – Members of the Sangguniang Bayan (SB) here have endorsed the controversial Tampakan copper-gold project of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc., an official confirmed.

The move was widely greeted with raised eyebrows from critics and even several SB members who voted against the endorsement for the Tampakan project.

But proponent Sagittarius Mines so far did not come out with any statement with an effect of victory even though this has been the talk of the town for a week already.

Vice Mayor Relly A. Leysa, SB presiding officer, told MindaNews last week that six councilors recently voted for the endorsement of the Tampakan project and four against, with one abstention.

“The 10 issues raised by the SB as an institution before the company have not been resolved, yet the majority decided to give its go signal for the mining project,” he said.

Among the key issues earlier raised by the SB include the final identification of land occupants in the final mine area, local prioritization of employment and business opportunity, absence of detailed rehabilitation and mine decommissioning plan, financial regime (indicative share of Tampakan town), and relocation issues.

A copy of the SB resolution endorsing the Tampakan project was not immediately available although a committee of the whole report dated April 11 recommended the passage of such measure.

Leysa, who voted against the endorsement, said the majority rammed the endorsement by overruling a parliamentary inquiry on the code of ethics of the members.

Based on our rules, members should disclose if they have interests in the issue on hand, and if this was observed, only two members could vote, he claimed.

Citing reports, majority of the SB members allegedly have business dealings with Sagittarius Mines such as car rental and catering services, Leysa said.

Efforts of the local media to get their side have been futile so far.

In a minority report signed by Leysa and the three other dissenters, they explained that that they objected to the endorsement on the grounds that it is still pre-mature and that the company has not resolved the local issues and concerns raised by the SB as a whole.

Also, they cited that President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III has yet to issue its new policies for the mining industry.

Leysa also said the endorsement was not appropriate since the mining firm’s motion for reconsideration on the environmental compliance certificate that was denied by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in January remains unresolved.

Ironically, Sagittarius Mines did not request the endorsement for the Tampakan project.

Tampakan Mayor Leonardo V. Escobillo sought the SB nod for the Tampakan project in separate letters dated March 5 and 29, 2012.

“We, the Executive Department, have been very keen in expressing our support for the Tampakan copper-gold project to be conducted by Sagittarius Mines. Notwithstanding, we acknowledge that the efforts of the Executive Department shall be worthless absent the support of its Sangguniang Bayan,” Mr. Escobillo said in his March 29 letter, a copy of which was obtained by this outfit.

Fr. Joseph Benitez, Tampakan parish priest, said they are still contemplating their actions against the endorsement of the SB for the Tampakan project.

“The decision was frustrating. In their internal rules, those who have [beneficial] interests should inhibit from voting,” the priest said.

Rene Pamplona, advocacy officer of the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Marbel, said those who voted for the endorsement of the Tampakan project should be meted administrative sanctions for having conflict of interests.

He also stressed that Sagittarius Mines did not seek the endorsement.

“The Office of the Mayor is not the owner of SMI,” Mr. Pamplona noted.

He also slammed the SB endorsement by stressing that the open-pit mining ban, which the company plans to employ in extracting the Tampakan deposits, remains a standing ordinance of the provincial government of South Cotabato.

For his part, John B. Arnaldo, Sagittarius Mines corporate communications manager, said the “company could not confirm whether or not the Tampakan local government unit has endorsed the Tampakan Project through an LGU resolution.”

“We have not yet received an official communication from the Tampakan LGU regarding this,” he said last week. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)