School attendance sheets attached to resolution endorsing Tampakan project

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/22 June) – Students at the Tampakan National High School in Tampakan, South Cotabato are up in arms.

The reason: their school attendance sheets were attached to the documents submitted by the local government unit to President Benigno Aquino III and other government agencies reportedly stating their support to the Tampakan copper and gold project.

The attendance sheets were reportedly attached to the resolution passed by the Sangguniang Bayan (Municipal Council) endorsing the mining project.

Several students however told a local television station that the documents where their names and signatures appeared were in fact school attendance sheets and not meant to show support to the Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI), holder of the Tampakan project.

School principal Maria Fe Cantor told ABS-CBN that the inclusion of the attendance signature was “an honest mistake.”

Cantor declined to face the camera but said she inadvertently submitted the attendance sheets instead of the list of high school scholars of SMI who are receiving monthly stipends from the company.

A source at SMI who requested anonymity as he was not authorized to issue statements said the town council endorsement was purely the initiative of Mayor Leonardo Escobillo after the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) denied the application of SMI for an environmental clearance certificate (ECC).

Escobillo earlier said that “several sectors in Tampakan wanted a reconsideration of the DENR decision.”

In denying the ECC, the DENR cited an existing provincial ordinance which bans open-pit mining in the whole province.

The proposed SMI mine site sits atop the forested area of Tampakan town and is surrounded by watersheds and protected areas. It also straddles the towns of Kiblawan in Davao del Sur and Columbio in Sultan Kudarat.

Agriculture Secretary Proseso Alcala earlier wrote DENR to stop the project if it will threaten agricultural production.

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

The Diocese of Marbel, one of the strongest critics of the project, earlier claimed the Tampakan project will affect close to 5,000 hectares of rice lands in South Cotabato, the region’s top rice producer.

The US$5.9-billion mining project is expected to generate billions in taxes and royalty fees and will have a life span of up to 25 years.

SMI earlier planned to commence commercial operation in 2016 but it will likely reset their production target following the denial of its ECC application amid strong resistance from the Catholic Church and environment groups.

SMI is hoping a new mining policy promised by the government will reconcile existing national and local laws and allow the company to proceed with the project.

President Benigno Aquino III is set to sign an executive order today defining the country’s mining policies and direction. (Edwin G. Espejo/MindaNews)