Tampakan mayor to SMI: ‘P500/ha per month rent for 25 years; where’s justice in that?’

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 13 August) – Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI), operator of the US$5.9-billion Tampakan project, Southeast Asia’s largest known undeveloped copper-gold minefield, will rent the ancestral lands of Lumads or indigenous peoples (IPs) for P160,000 per hectare for 25 years, or P6,400 a year or P533.33 a month, the town’s chief executive disclosed.

Mayor Leonard Escobillo revealed the amount was part of the negotiations for the free prior and informed consent (FPIC), one of the requirements that the company needs to acquire from the Lumads to operate in their ancestral lands.

Leonard Escobillo, mayor of Tampakan, South Cotabato. MindaNews photo by GREGORIO C. BUENO

“I believe there’s no justice in that. You rent one hectare of land and you’ll use it for 25 years, that’s only P500 a month. How will a family live with such (amount)?” Escobillo said on Wednesday during the Network Briefing News anchored by Secretary Martin Andanar of the Presidential Communications Operations Office aired live over state-owned Radyo Pilipinas.

The mayor said he believed that the lumads, mostly belonging to the Blaan tribe, “had already consented to the rental rate.”

MindaNews sought SMI officials for comments on Thursday but in vain.

Escobillo said he raised the rental rate issue with SMI but his concern was allegedly disregarded since the firm asserted that the local government unit (LGU) “has no authority over the FPIC.”

The FPIC process is under the turf of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples and is enshrined in Republic Act 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997.

Lawyer Wilfredo Moncano, national director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), said during the same broadcast that he does not know if both sides have already agreed on the rental rate.

“Supposedly, they should execute a memorandum of agreement. They should agree on what’s acceptable to the community, what’s acceptable to the company. The role of the LGU is to arbitrate when the IPs and the mining company disagree,” Moncano said.

A resident maneuvers the dirt road passing a bridge under construction at the Tampakan project area on January 16, 2020 in Tampakan, South Cotabato. MindaNews photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

Escobillo said that “being the father of the town, the tribe is also my people, and their welfare is also my interest. I will do everything to protect my people.”

The mayor said that SMI is gearing up to start the construction of facilities needed to support the mining phase.

Road rehabilitation in the Tampakan mining tenement, which straddles the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Davao del Sur, has been ongoing and power lines have already been put in place in the area.

Escobillo said the Tampakan LGU wants to reach an updated comprehensive agreement with SMI, since the existing agreement was inked in 2009 or 11 years ago.

In a cryptic message posted on his Facebook wall on Tuesday, the neophyte mayor, who succeeded his father Leonardo, a staunch supporter of the Tampakan project, said he will “never allow big companies to exploit the people of Tampakan. Not during my watch.”

“Responsible & international standard mn kaya… Dividing its people & turn them against their own government,” he added.

SMI had pointed out on many occasions that it will employ responsible mining on par with world-class standards.

The firm had announced that open-pit mining is the most viable method to extract the massive deposits for the Tampakan project, so named because the minefield is located in Tampakan, South Cotabato.

However, the South Cotabato provincial government has banned  the open-pit mining method since 2010. The prohibition is contained in its Environment Code, which pro-mining supporters challenged in a local court here.

If allowed to proceed, the Tampakan project has the potential to yield an average of 375,000 tons of copper and 360,000 ounces of gold in concentrate per annum in the 17-year-life of the mine, a company briefer said.

The national government granted SMI a 25-year Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) that was to expire on March 21, 2020.

The FTAA is subject for renewal for another 25 years, but long before its expiry, SMI sought and was granted a 12-year extension of the original FTAA on June 8, 2016.

Workers put in place soil erosion blankets made from coconut husks within the Tampakan project area in Barangay Tablu, Tampakan, South Cotabato on January 16, 2020. MindaNews photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

Felizardo Gacad Jr., MGB – Region 12 director, confirmed the 12-year extension of SMI’s FTAA, or until March 21, 2032, in January this year.

Also, the firm has already “reacquired” the environmental compliance certificate (ECC) canceled by the late Environment Secretary Gina Lopez in February 2017.

Omar Saikol, Environmental Management Bureau – Region 12 director, disclosed last month in a press conference here that the ECC of SMI has been “restored” by the Office of the President.

“The ECC of SMI was reinstated by the Office of the President on May 6, 2019,” Saikol, reading from a prepared document, told reporters on July 9.

Escobillo acknowledged that the mining project in the mountains poses environmental hazards and poses danger to lives and properties.

SMI had vowed to institute “best mining practices” to mitigate the environmental and social impacts of the project should they go into commercial production. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)

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