Losing mayoralty bet in mineral-rich Tampakan town files electoral protest

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/06 June)— A losing mayoralty bet in Tampakan, South Cotabato, which hosts Southeast Asia’s largest known undeveloped copper-gold reserve, has filed an electoral protest before a court here.

Former mayor Claudius Barroso sought a recount on the results of the May 13 mayoral contest won by incumbent Mayor Leonardo Escobillo

“My lawyer filed a case for the annulment of the proclamation and a recount of votes for the mayoralty race,” Barroso said on the phone Thursday.

He noted that they have “sufficient evidence” that the recent election in the locality was allegedly marred by irregularities.

Barroso did not give specific details of the electoral protest, saying he has yet to get an official copy of the complaint filed by his lawyer.

He was mayor of Tampakan for three terms from 1998 to 2007.

Evangeline Basan, acting municipal Commission on Elections (Comelec) officer, said the petition was recently filed by the Barroso camp before the Regional Trial Court Branch 24 in this city.

She noted the proclamation of the winning mayor by the Municipal Board of Canvassers (MBOC) was based on the electronic results transmitted by the precincts.

If the court rules in favor of Barroso’s petition, Basan said the recounting of votes would be done manually.

Based on the official Comelec results, Escobillo got 11,976 votes against Barroso’s 6,926.

Escobillo, who won his second term, was proclaimed by the MBOC the day after the May 13 polls.

Tampakan has a voting population of 24,134 spread in 14 barangays.

MindaNews contacted Escobillo at his office but he was unavailable to take the call Thursday morning as he was still meeting with officials of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI), operator of the Tampakan copper-gold project.

Rey Sitcharon, the mayor’s secretary, said they welcome the electoral protest of Barroso.

“We have not done anything wrong. It’s up to the court to decide,” he said in behalf of the mayor.

Both Escobillo and Barroso are known supporters of SMI’s mining project because of its economic contribution.

In the May 13 polls, SMI provided support to the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting to promote peaceful and credible elections.

The Tampakan project contains an estimated 15 million tons of copper and 17.6 million ounces of gold, a company study said.

Glencore International plc last month completed the acquisition of Xstrata plc., whose wholly–owned subsidiary Xstrata Copper owns 62.5 percent of the 40 percent controlling equity at SMI. The merged company is now known as Glencore Xstrata plc.

Australian firm Indophil Resources NL is the junior partner at SMI.

The Tampakan project is staunchly opposed by the local Catholic Church and other local and international non-government organizations on concerns over the environment, human health and food security.

South Cotabato had imposed a ban on open-pit mining, the method SMI will employ to extract the massive mineral deposits. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)