Diocese of Marbel wages ‘Team Pabor-Team Ayaw’ campaign vs mining, coal plant

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/13 March) — Calling it an effective strategy in educating local voters, Catholic Church leaders are adopting the controversial “Team Patay-Team Buhay” campaign of the Diocese of Bacolod to highlight local mining and environment-related issues in the upcoming May 13 elections.

Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez of the Diocese of Marbel said Wednesday they decided to post tarpaulins containing the names of candidates who favor and oppose the planned open-pit mining activity in South Cotabato and the construction of the coal-fired power plant in Sarangani Province.

Dubbed “Team Pabor-Team Ayaw” campaign, he said the move aims to educate local voters regarding the stand of candidates on the US$ 5.9-billion Tampakan copper-gold project of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI) and the coal-fired power plant project of the Alcantara-led Sarangani Energy Corporation (SEC).

“We’re not endorsing any candidate. We just want to guide our voters in making the right choices come election day,” the bishop said.

Gutierrez said the “Team Pabor-Team Ayaw” tarpaulins will be raised in front of parishes and chapels under the Diocese of Marbel.

The diocese covers the provinces of South Cotabato and Sarangani as well as the cities of General Santos and Koronadal.

The bishop said they are not setting any limit as to the sizes of the “Team Pabor-Team Ayaw” tarpaulins that will be posted.

“(The tarpaulins) will be as long as you want and as big as you want. No limit when it comes to sizes,” he said.

Gutierrez said among the candidates included in the “Team Ayaw” or those who oppose the open-pit mining and coal plant projects are South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Pingoy Jr., South Cotabato (2nd District) Rep. Daisy Avance-Fuentes, Koronadal City Mayor Peter Miguel, Sarangani Rep. Emmanuel Pacquiao and Sarangani Vice Gov. Steve Chiongbian Solon.

He did not name the candidates that will be included in the “Team Pabor” or those who favor the two projects.

Pacquiao and Solon, who were running unopposed as representative and governor of Sarangani, respectively, have opposed the ongoing construction of the SEC’s 200-megawatt (MW) coal plant in the coastal village of Kamanga in Maasim town.

The US$ 450-million power plant, which is due for completion by the end of 2015, is a joint venture between the Alcantara Group’s Conal Holdings Corporation and Thailand’s Electricity Generating Public Company Limited.

Pingoy and Fuentes, who are both running for governor of South Cotabato, have repeatedly disclosed in public their opposition to SMI’s open-pit mining project.

While in her last term as governor in 2010, Fuentes signed the province’s environment code that included a provision banning open-pit mining in the area.

Pingoy, who succeeded Fuentes, implemented the open-pit ban and stood behind it amid calls for its withdrawal by the national government.

Mayor Miguel, who is seeking reelection, is also supporting the open-pit ban.

Environment Secretary Ramon Paje issued last month a conditional environmental compliance certificate or ECC to SMI despite the standing ban on open-pit mining.

The open-pit ban was the main reason for the DENR’s denial in January last year of SMI’s application for ECC.

SMI, which is controlled by world’s fourth largest copper producer Xstrata Copper, had disclosed that it would employ the controversial open-pit mining method for its operations, a move vehemently opposed by local environmental groups and Roman Catholic Church. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)