KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 14 September) — Marbel Bishop Cerilo Casicas rejected Friday the US$5.9 billion Tampakan project, the largest known undeveloped copper and gold reserve in Southeast Asia.
The prelate also reiterated the local Catholic church’s unwavering support to the ban on open-pit mining imposed by the South Cotabato government, which has been the headache for Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI) since 2010.
Casicas pledged to sustain the opposition spearheaded by his predecessor, the late Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez, against SMI, the operator of the Tampakan project that straddles the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and Davao del Sur.
Before an estimated 200 residents affected by the Tampakan project and civil society members who attended a mining forum at the Notre Dame of Marbel University here, Casicas deplored the Tampakan project, a venture which, according to him, “even God will not approve.”
Vowing to sustain the local Catholic church’s resistance against open-pit mining, Casicas stressed: “God created humans to protect the environment.”
With SMI’s project affecting 10,000 hectares of land in the mountains, the prelate pointed out the Tampakan project will have adverse impact not just on the environment but also on agricultural production in the lowlands.
Efforts to get comments from SMI proved futile. But the company repeatedly pointed out that numerous studies have shown that the only viable method of mineral extraction for the Tampakan project is open-pit mining.
International experience has shown that “it is a safe and responsible method,” SMI said.
Casicas reiterated the diocese’s stance as supporters of SMI challenged the legality of the open-pit mining ban imposed by the provincial government at a local court here. The petitioners include the Bongmal Tribal Council, Danlag Tribal Council, and the Fulo Bato Tribal Council, tribal groups that are within the mines tenement.
The hearing is set on September 24.
The prelate said the local Catholic church will continue resisting the Tampakan project, so-called because the bulk of the minerals lies in Tampakan, South Cotabato, which is within the diocesan jurisdiction.
“This is not our battle, this is the battle of God,” Casicas said in the vernacular, noting that the mining industry is “the world’s worst contributor to global warming.”
Jaybee Garganera, Alyansa Tigil Mina national coordinator, said SMI cannot proceed with commercial production because they still don’t have the Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of the tribal group.
He also pointed out that the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) issued to SMI had been cancelled by the late Environment Secretary Gina Lopez.
“It has not been lifted,” he said.
The homegrown Alcantara Group owns the controlling equity at SMI.
SMI is developing the Tampakan Project for its shareholders by virtue of a Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) issued by the Philippine government on March 22, 1995. The FTAA is set to expire on March 22, 2020, subject to renewal for another 25 years.
President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly said he is against open pit mining.
South Cotabato Gov. Reynaldo Tamayo said the provincial government already responded to the legal petition challenging the open-pit mining ban in the area.
He said the province “will respect the court’s decision.”
The Tampakan project has the potential to yield an average of 375,000 tonnes per annum of copper and 360,000 ounces per annum of gold in concentrate over the 17 year period of mining and ore production, the firm said.
Former Governor Daisy Avance-Fuentes, whom Tamayo defeated in the recent polls, signed the controversial environment code that banned open-pit mining in 2010. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)