DA: Stop Tampakan project if it threatens agriculture

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews) — The Department of Agriculture has expressed apprehension over the Tampakan copper-gold project of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines Inc., saying it should not be allowed to proceed if agricultural lands would be affected.

Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said the agency has written the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) expressing concern on the Tampakan project’s possible impact on agriculture.

“If it [Tampakan project] will affect agricultural production, what we have been saying is that we’re on the side of the farmers,” he told MindaNews.

The official was in Sto. Nino, South Cotabato on Monday to lead the groundbreaking of a P24-million rice processing facility.

In general, the position of the Agriculture department is that prime agricultural lands across the country should not be affected by any mining projects, Alcala stressed, noting the DENR has yet to reply to their letter.

Thousands of hectares of palay or rice farms in the lowlands will likely be affected if the watershed sources in the mountains of Tampakan would not be protected from mining intrusion, various local groups in South Cotabato have said.

In a resolution opposing the Tampakan Project, the South Cotabato Irrigators Agricultural Farmers’ Federation Inc. estimated that 4,293 hectares in several low-lying towns greatly depends on the Tampakan watershed.  These farmlands, according to their resolution, produce an average of 17,172 metric tons of palay per cropping season involving 1,873 farmers.

On the other hand, the Topland Irrigators Association Inc. issued a separate resolution opposing the Tampakan project. The combined area of members of this association is 1,260 hectares.

The local Catholic Church has also repeatedly asked the government to stop the mining project because it will supposedly destroy the watersheds in the mountains that supply water in the lowlands.

The concern aired by the Agriculture department on the impact of the Tampakan project came even as President Benigno S. Aquino III has yet to issue a new mining policy statement.

John Arnaldo, Sagittarius Mines external communications and media relations manager, has said the Tampakan project, if allowed to proceed, will employ environment practices that are in accordance with national and world-class standards.

An open-pit mining ban imposed by the provincial government of South Cotabato has been hounding the Tampakan project, touted as the largest known undeveloped copper-gold deposit in Southeast Asia.

It was the main reason cited by the DENR in rejecting the application of Sagittarius Mines for an environmental compliance certificate in January.

The company appealed the rejection but the DENR maintained its position in a decision handed last month. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)