KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 18 April) – Presidential candidate and labor leader Leodegario “Ka Leody” de Guzman marched in the streets of this city Monday to support moves to retain the ban on open-pit mining in South Cotabato. He is the first and only contender for the country’s top post to make a categorical position in the landmark provincial measure.
Vice President Leni Robredo and former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. campaigned here earlier but left out the issue about the prohibition on open-pit mining method, which is closely followed by stakeholders in South Cotabato, particularly the local Catholic church.
De Guzman also called on voters in South Cotabato to reject politicians who are behind and supporting the lifting of the province’s ban on open-pit mining.
The Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) of South Cotabato has been deliberating petitions to lift the ban on open-pit mining, the method eyed for the controversial $5.9-billion Tampakan project, said to be the largest undeveloped copper and gold minefield in Southeast Asia.
De Guzman, Laban ng Masa standard bearer, rejected the lifting of the open-pit mining ban in the province, saying he believed that “majority of the people of South Cotabato wanted the prohibition to stay” for the sake of the environment and the future generation.
“Ang makikinabang ay ang isang dakot na mga bilyonaryo sa ating bansa at ang mag mag-sasuffer ay di lamang ang mga Blaan, di lamang ang mga taga south Cotabato at di lamang ang taga-Mindanao kundi ang buong bansa (Only a few billionaires in our country will benefit and those who will suffer are not only the Blaans, not only the people of South Cotabato, not only the people of Mindanao but the whole country),” he told reporters before marching with about a hundred supporters towards the provincial capitol.
De Guzman said it is clear that the people of South Cotabato are “angry and opposed” to the “potentially destructive” Tampakan mining project.
He said local politicians, especially those seeking elective posts, should set aside their personal interests and look after the welfare of the people, especially the Blaan tribal communities and other sectors that would be directly affected by the project.
“Dapat naman [i-reject sila]. Bakit mo naman iboboto ang mga taong hindi sumasang-ayon sa kagustuhan ng mamamayan? E kabaliktaran yun, di ba? Tapusin na natin ang pagboto dun sa mga taong mga nasa tuktok, yung mga mayayaman kasi papaboran lang niyan ang mga mayayaman din” (They should be rejected. Why should you vote for those who do not agree with what the citizens want? That’s the opposite, right? We should stop electing people at the top because they will only favor the rich), De Guzman told reporters.
De Guzman – who was joined by running mate Walden Bello and Partido Lakas ng Masa senatorial candidates Roy Cabonegro, David D’Angelo and lawyer Luke Espiritu – said residents should learn from the lessons of the past elections and stop from voting popular candidates and those spending so much in their campaigns.
“Dahil yan babawi at ang susuportahan ay yung nagbibigay sa kanila ng pondo tulad ng mga miners, korporasyon ng mining, ang paglilikuran niyan ay hindi ang mga bumoto sa kanila” (They will recoup their expenses and will support those who gave them funds like the miners, the mining corporations, and not those who voted for them), he stressed.
The Tampakan project, which is situated in the town of Tampakan in South Cotabato, lies in the ancestral domain of the Blaan ethnic tribe.
The SP was scheduled to tackle the move to lift the ban on open-pit mining on Monday, but was adjourned due to a lack of quorum.
The committee report proposing to lift the ban on open-pit mining was authored by reelectionist South Cotabato board member Hilario de Pedro VI, chair of the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources. He is the son of the late former South Cotabato governor Hilario de Pedro III.
The three others who signed the joint committee report were ex-officio member Edgar Sambog, chair of the Committee on Muslim Affairs and Indigenous Cultural Communities, and joint committee members Antonio Fungan and Dardanilo Dar.
Those who favored the lifting of the open-pit mining ban were also absent during Monday’s session. In a plenary session last month, the board members calendared the resumption of discussions on the lifting of the open-pit mining method on April 18.
De Guzman belittled the mining industry’s economic impact, noting that “its contribution is less than one percent of the country’s gross domestic product and generated not even 0.5 percent of the country’s total employment.”
The open-pit mining ban in South Cotabato has been in place since 2010. It has been considered a big stumbling block for the extraction of a huge volume of mineral deposits in the Tampakan project, which is being pursued by Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI).
SMI earlier revealed in a study that the most viable way to extract the minerals is through open-pit mining. The Tampakan project is touted as the largest undeveloped copper-gold minefield in Southeast Asia and among the biggest of its kind in the world. It 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 expected 17-year life of the mine. SMI has repeatedly vowed to employ “responsible mining” in the Tampakan project.
Last month, the Provincial Development Council, chaired by South Cotabato Gov. Reynaldo Tamayo Jr. and composed of members of House of Representatives and mayors and representatives of non-government organizations in South Cotabato, approved a resolution for the retention of the open-pit mining ban in the province.
In December, former Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu lifted the ban on open-pit mining imposed by his predecessor, the late Gina Lopez. (Bong S. Sarmiento with a report from Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)