Church-led Tampakan Forum revived to oppose Tampakan mining project

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 10 October) –  After almost a decade of inactivity, the local Catholic church and allied groups have revived the Tampakan Forum to ignite a “systematic and sustained” opposition against the controversial Tampakan Project, Southeast Asia’s largest undeveloped copper and gold minefield in South Cotabato.

Marbel Bishop Cerilo Casicas said they decided to restore the organized opposition given the “momentum going in favor” of Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI),  operator of the Tampakan Project, so named because the bulk of the minerals is located in South Cotabato’s Tampakan town.

Residents within the Tampakan project transport their corn harvest down to the markets in Tampakan, South Cotabato on January 16, 2020. MindaNews photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

“The Tampakan Forum has lain low after 2011 with the success of the campaign against SMI, such as the approval of the open-pit mining ban by the South Cotabato provincial government (in 2010),” Casicas said during the online re-launch of the forum on Friday.

He also cited the strong opposition of the late former Environment Secretary Gina Lopez to the Tampakan Project.

But the advantage is now in favor of  SMI, Casicas said, citing the extension of the firm’s Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) and the Environment Compliance Certificate (ECC).

MindaNews broke the stories on major developments in the Tampakan project tin January and July this year. In January, it reported that SMI’s FTAA was extended for 12 years and in July, that the Office of the President restored SMI’s ECC, which then Environment Secretary Lopez ordered cancelled in 2017.

Set to expire on March 21, 2020, the 25-year FTAA awarded to the Tampakan Project, was extended for 12 years – or until March 21, 2032 — in an order issued June 8, 2016 but known only last January, during an interview with Felizardo Gacad, Jr., Mines and Geosciences Bureau- Region 12 director.

Leo Jasareno, then national director of the MGB, an agency under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), approved the extension on June 8, 2016 “by authority of the secretary.”

The DENR secretary at the time was Ramon Paje.

Gateway to base camp of Sagittarius Mines, Inc. in Tampakan, South Cotabato. MindaNews photo by BONG SARMIENTO

“Whereas, thru a letter dated May 11, 2016, SMI requested for a 12-year extension of the term of FTAA No 02-95-XI (Amended) to restore the equivalent period of time lost due to force majeure in view of the various problems it is encountering in the contract area, which have prevented it from fully pursuing its operations therein, such as the legal conflicts, the ban on open-pit mining, the issuance of the CLOAs (Certificate of Land Ownership Awards), peace and order problem and delays in government approval,” Jasareno’s order stated.

On June 30, 2016 or 22 days after the FTAA was extended, Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte took his oath as President.

In July this year, Omar Saikol, Environmental Management Bureau – Region 12 director, said SMI’s ECC “was reinstated by the Office of the President on May 6, 2019.”

Saikol said SMI was originally granted its ECC by the EMB main office on February 19, 2013, which Lopez cancelled in 2017.

Efforts to revive the Tampakan Forum gained ground last February, and it was supposed to be re-launched the following month but did not push through due to the lockdowns imposed because of COVID-19.

Marbel Bishop Cerilo Casicas reiterates the diocese’s support to the ban on open-pit mining imposed by the South Cotabato government in 2010, during a forum at the Notre Dame of Marbel University in Koronadal City on Friday, September 13, 2019. MindaNews photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

Casicas said the united opposition against the Tampakan Project, then and now, is not just composed of local but also national and international groups.

He said the Diocese of Marbel joined the fight opposing SMI’s venture due to concerns on the plight of the Indigenous Peoples and the environment.

The revived Tampakan Forum will serve as venue for unity and systematic opposition to the Tampakan project, he said.

Touted as Southeast Asia’s largest known undeveloped copper and gold minefield, the Tampakan Project has the potential of yielding per annum, an average of 375,000 tons of copper and 360,000 ounces of gold in concentrate within the 17-year-life of the mine.

If developed, the Tampakan Project “has the potential to make a significant contribution to the economic prosperity of the Philippines and enable a better future for the people of southern Mindanao,” SMI said on its website.

SMI plans to extract the huge deposits using the open-pit mining method, which the firm insisted is not contrary to Republic Act 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.

Open pit mining is banned in the province of South Cotabato.

SMI had earlier stated “that it is deeply committed to upholding and promoting the rights of local communities hosting its Tampakan Project.”

MindaNews has repeatedly sought SMI for comments and interviews but it has not been responding.

The reactivation of the Tampakan Forum has the backing of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines’ (CBCP) National Secretariat for Social Action – Justice and Peace, Philippine Misereor Partnership, Inc. and Alyansa Tigil Mina, among others.

Cotabato Archbishop Angelito Lampon, OMI, lauded the revival of the Tampakan Forum as a vehicle to protect the environment.

“Regardless of different cultures and beliefs, we are making a loud statement, especially support that the Tampakan Project will not be allowed to proceed,” Lampon said in his closing remarks during the relaunch.

The revival of the Tampakan Forum came with the launching of the Mindanao chapter of the Eco-Convergence (Church-CSO Empowerment for Environmental Sustainability), which is geared to strengthen the collaboration among church institutions and different socio-civic and people’s organizations in bringing out concrete ecological actions to combat the climate emergency.

This is one of the action points identified in the CBCP’s pastoral letter entitled “An Urgent Call for Ecological Conversion, Hope in the Face of Climate Emergency,” according to a project briefer.

The revival and launching event coincided with the closing of the Season of Creation and was held in solidarity with the celebration of the National Indigenous Peoples’ Month. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)