October 31, 2020 (9:38 AM)

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REVIVED CAMPAIGN. Various stakeholders nationwide convene to discuss the impact of the Tampakan Mining Project on peoples and biodiversity in South Cotabato during a Virtual Pakighinabi titled, “SoMEday in Tampakan”, Stakeholders’ Forum on the State of Mining and the Environment in Tampakan via Zoom and FB Live, October 30. Photo taken from news.mongabay.com

More than 870 households, 582 of which are B’laan indigenous peoples’, will be directly affected by the open-pit Tampakan Mining Project should it be given a permit to operate in South Cotabato, said Fr. Cerilo Casicas, the Bishop of Marbel, in a virtual forum yesterday. 

Since the data was taken from a 2007 census, Casicas claimed that there are currently more than 5000 people living in the mining site.

“Until now we don’t know where they will be placed when they are displaced from their area. But remember, it’s not just a question of moving people. These are IPs. They are more attached to the land. When you move them you affect not only their livelihood, but their life, their culture,” Casicas said.

With a mineral resource estimate of 15 million tons of copper (worth $111.6 billion) and 498.96 million grams of gold (worth $30 billion), the 10,000-hectare Tampakan mining site has been able to attract entities with “vested interests”, according to Casicas. 

“Before the gold and the copper, our primary concern are the persons involved here,” he said. 

(READ: Tabora slams mining in PH, says it does not help common good)

Recipe for disaster

In his talk, the Bishop presented the possible environmental impacts, as well as the health risks posed by the Tampakan Mining Project. This includes the hazards to agriculture and food supply, since the site is a catchment area for six river systems in four provinces. 

“If something goes wrong here and whatever goes wrong here is brought down to the river system, it could go down as far as Davao Gulf,” he said.

Another risk includes the formation of sulfuric acid from the possible interaction of sulfide in gold and copper ores with air and water. Sulfuric acid is a highly corrosive chemical that may cause various health complications such as severe skin burns, blindness, and difficulty breathing, among others. 

According to Casicas, a study also showed that the ores contain high levels of arsenic, another toxic chemical that may cause cancer and skin lesions. 

“We are speaking of millions of tons of arsenic and we know arsenic is very soluble in water and it interacts with sulfuric acid and it all goes into the water,” he added.

When exposed to the atmosphere, sulfuric acid will last from 2,500 to 10,000 years.

Aside from the toxic chemicals, the mine is located along major fault lines.

“There are at least three or four fault lines. So imagine, you have a mining area, you have a waste rock facility which is acid forming and you have water which are toxic, and you have a big dump containing billions of tons of water then you have an area susceptible to major earthquake, then you are asking for some kind of disaster,” the Bishop said.

Recent developments 

Although the Department of Environment and Natural Resources under late Secretary Gina Lopez cancelled the project’s Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) in 2017, recent developments have spurred NGOs and other groups to revive their campaign against the Tampakan mine.

February 2019 – SMI challenges in court South Cotabato’s Environmental Code banning open-pit mining.

July 2019 – The political landscape in South Cotabato changes with the election of Gov. Reynaldo Tamayo, Jr.. Tamayo does not express his position on the mining project.

January 2020 –  The extension of the Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) between SMI and the Philippine government is made public. It was extended in June 2016.

July 2020 – The public learns of SMI’s ECC restoration. It was reinstated in May 2019.

September 2020 – The municipality of Tampakan cancels the Municipal Principal Agreement (MPA) with SMI.

October 2020 – The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) grants SMI the Certification Precondition (CP), giving SMI the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of indigenous peoples to operate in the area. 

As of press time, drilling activities continue in the area. While SMI claims that it is part of their exploration phase, they are already offering lease agreements to the IPs.

In the forum, Casicas pointed out that they were only made aware of some developments much later, making it difficult to carry out their advocacy.

Meanwhile, Tampakan Mayor Leonard Escobillo expressed how he was “not anti or pro mining,” but is still “trying to study if mining is good for Tampakan.”

“In the event that we believe that mining has good impact, then why not? But if we believe that mining is very bad for the community, then we have to decide,” he said. 

The role of civil society 

Considering the mine’s impacts on the most vulnerable, Fr. Pedro Walpole, SJ, Director of Research at the Institute of Environmental Science for Social Change, discussed possible lines of action in the context of the Philippines.

“This is the curse, as we know, of poor countries with rich natural resources, and this economic gain is an economics void of cultural and ecological consideration of their impacts,” he said. 

“We need a development for the public, for the common good over corporate greed, a truly sustainable and circular economy,” he added.

Amid the delays in publicizing the FTAA and other documents, Walpole said it shows “little process and transparency.” 

“We need corporate social responsibility that goes beyond window-dressing, greenwashing. We need to encourage our businesses in the country to invest in and for the future of the Filipino and build a sustainable circular economy together. We must remember what we have learned in mining history of the Philippines and we must seek for action,” he stated.

“When civil society takes up a cause, it is always the underdog in the face of the establishment but it is the living and the life and the hope of so many people.” 

The said forum, titled “SoMEday in Tampakan” is part of a series of dialogues organized by Ecoteneo, the Ateneo Public Interest and Legal Advocacy (APILA) center, and the University Community Engagement and Advocacy Council (UCEAC). It was attended by various universities and organizations nationwide.



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