Tampakan mine: Digging for the long haul

Edwin Espejo
Open-pit mining ban threatens commercial operations of Sagittarius Mines' Tampakan copper-gold project in South Cotabato

MANILA, Philippines – Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI), the Philippine unit of global miner Xstrata Plc, can’t seem to find a way around a provincial ordinance that virtually shut down its proposed $5.9-billion copper-gold Tampakan project in South Cotabato.

There are no signs that the Provincial Board is going to amend, scrap or even relent to a review of a ban on open-pit mining, the method that SMI will use in Tampakan.

With SMI also hesitant to go to court to question the ban, the company may just have to push back its target of starting commercial mine operations by 2016.

The ban is not SMI’s only problem. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources – Environment Management Bureau rejected its application for an environment clearance certificate (ECC), although it is now on appeal.

SMI, partly owned by Australian miner Indophil Resources NL, will have to re-apply and go through another tedious process of obtaining the clearance if its appeal is likewise rejected.

One can always argue that SMI had a hand in the recent resolution passed by host town Tampakan supporting the mining project.

And only the naive will say SMI was not involved in frustrating separate successive attempts by two fact-finding teams to reach Bong Mal where the indigenous Blaan tribe has vowed to resist the company.

While those who blocked the church-backed mission this week and the one organized by the Left the week before to commemorate Earth Day were members of the Tribal Councils — which support SMI — one also cannot be faulted if these anti-mining activists will accuse SMI of coopting the tribal leaders in exchange of promised job and other business opportunities.

Most of the tribal chieftains in the host communities that will be affected by the mining operations have been recipient of grants, favors and even contracts to supply manpower. They have been given luxury vehicles and have been constantly bombarded with all glowing promises by company community organizers.

But the resistance put up by some tribal leaders has some valid points and real concerns.

For one, SMI recently announced it will no longer include residents and tribal community members in the proposed relocation plan raising the possibility that those who will not relocate will be forcibly evicted. SMI itself has announced that as many as 4,000 families will have to be relocated away from the village centers of Folu Bato (not Pula Bato), Danlag, Tablu and Bong Mal, all in Tampakan. Also probably not explained is that these residents will no longer be allowed inside the almost 4,000-hectare mining area site and who knows how many more hectares for SMI’s buffer zones.

Tribal opposition has also evolved into spontaneous armed resistance with a group of armed Blaan men owning responsibility to a recent ambush that killed three drill men under contract with SMI.

Of course, Wednesday’s attacked by communist guerillas at a military detachment in Columbio, Sultan Kudarat is another grim reminder that SMI, while welcomed by some, is also despised and hated by others.

SMI will have its hands full in addressing concerns from communities and residents that are against tis operations. It will also have to answer issues on the environment and the fragile ecology of the mining area.

There is no easy way in for the company. – Rappler.com

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