Groups and advocates from the academe, youth, religious sectors and civil society organizations yesterday convened for an online forum discussing the ecological impacts, recent developments, and ongoing petition against Sagittarius Mines Inc.’s (SMI) Tampakan Mining Project in South Cotabato, an open-pit mine site that is set to be the largest open-pit gold-copper mine in the Philippines.
Ecoteneo Director Carmela Marie Santos read a unity statement signed by 519 individuals and 94 organizations from across the country urging SMI to leave Mindanao upon assessing the ‘leviathan impact’ that it would have on Mindanao’s ecology and peoples.
Among the appeals made were: recalling of SMI’s 12-year Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) extension, respecting the open-pit mining ban of South Cotabato, repealing the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 and prioritizing the Alternative Minerals Management Bill, and reconciling the governance priorities of the national government and local government on its mining policy and environmental agenda.
The economic ‘benefits’ of mining was a recurring point of discussion. Most discussants and reactors agreed that profits gained would not be worth the irreversible damage to the environment.
“Economic recovery stimuli to cope with the pandemic cannot be an excuse for mining. We cannot afford to compromise the environment especially in a pandemic brought about precisely by the exploitation of nature and biodiversity,” the statement read.
“Protecting Tampakan is defending Mindanao and its key role in the Philippine economy and environment and the rest of the world.”
Recent dev’ts, chain of irregularities
Following Bishop Cerilo Casicas’s lecture on the environmental threats of open-pit mining to Mindanao (READ: Tampakan mine to displace 870 households), Atty. Dion Romano from the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center enumerated the chain of irregularities present in the gold-copper project.
October this year, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) ‘allegedly’ issued a Certification Precondition (CP) to SMI Tampakan, which formalizes the consent of the B’laan, the indigenous peoples (IPs) in the area, to the project.
This came after Koronadal City Regional Trial Court upheld the constitutionality of the open-pit mining ban of South Cotabato last October 12, and after the local government of Tampakan withdrew support from the project.
Romano said that groups resisting SMI Tampakan ‘took offense’ in NCIP’s statement that they did not receive any complaint from the IP community.
“We take offense ‘dun sa statement ni NCIP na none from the NGOs or communities filed a complaint. So kami naman, kulang pa ba yung mga ginawang forum, mga activities ng mga NGOs o mga sulat na ipinadala ng community leaders to let them know about what’s happening in the real sense doon sa community? And how open is the process of the FPIC? How transparent is the process? We reflect in that statement kung may pagkukulang ba.”
He further questioned the restoration ‘without justification’ of SMI’s Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC), which was cancelled in 2017.
SMI’s FTAA, also extended for 12 years despite expiring last March 2020, is another issue according to Romano. Said FTAA was approved by the Director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau in 2016, despite Philippine law mandating that only the President can enter into such agreements.
“In this particular extension, it was only approved by an MGB director so that raises a question of whether the MGB director has the authority to extend the FTAA,” he said.
‘Destructive’ open-pit mining
Speaking at the forum were student leaders, environmentalists, and representatives from the government, including Mindanao Development Authority Chairman Manny Pinol.
Pinol said that “the Tampakan mining project is just one manifestation of a grave malaise affecting our growth as a nation and development as a country.”
“Whoever it was who said that there could be an environment-friendly mining was lying. Extractive mining is always destructive. There is no such thing as environment-friendly mining. Exploiting the bounties of nature will really have a stiff price in sacrificing the environment,” he added.
The MinDA Chair said historical data proves mining provinces are still poor, belying claims that mining can be economically beneficial.
“Who benefits from mining?” is the important question that has to be asked, said Pinol.
“… I am a very pragmatic person and my stock answer to their overtures had always [been] consistent: If the mining operations will be shared by the people in the area and all of them will become millionaires, I am all for it. But if it would only benefit a corporation or certain groups and individuals, let the gold in Mt. Apo be buried forever.”
“Tayo Tayo Para sa Tampakan” virtual national forum is part of the online movement organized by different units of the Ateneo de Davao University to raise awareness on the issues of Mindanao.
An ongoing online petition can be signed by visiting tampakan.addu.edu.ph.