GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines – Students at the Tampakan National High School are protesting local officials’ submission of school attendance sheets to President Benigno Aquino III and other government agencies reportedly stating their support for the town’s copper and gold project.
The attendance sheets were reportedly attached to a resolution passed by the Tampakan municipal council endorsing the mining project.
Several students, however, told a local television station that the documents where their names and signatures appeared were in fact school attendance sheets and should not be construed as an endorsement of the mining project.
School principal Maria Fe Cantor told ABS-CBN that the inclusion of the attendance signature was “an honest mistake.”
Cantor declined to face the camera but said she inadvertently submitted the attendance sheets instead of the list of high school scholars of the Sagittarius Mines Inc (SMI), which operates the copper and gold project.
A source from SMI who requested anonymity as he was not authorized to issue statement said the town council’s endorsement was the initiative of Tampakan Mayor Leonardo Escobillo after the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) denied SMI’s application for an environmental clearance certificate (ECC).
Escobillo earlier said that “several sectors in Tampakan wanted a reconsideration of the DENR decision.”
In denying the ECC application of SMI, DENR cited an existing provincial ordinance which bans open-pit mining in South Cotabato. The proposed SMI mine site sits atop a forested area and is surrounded by protected and watershed areas.
Agriculture Secretary Proseso Alcala had asked the DENR to stop the project if it threatens agricultural production.
“If it [Tampakan project] will affect agricultural production, what we have been saying is that we’re on the side of the farmers,” Alcala wrote in a recent letter to the DENR.
The Diocese of Marbel, one of the strongest critics of the project, claimed that the Tampakan project will affect close to 5,000 hectares of rice lands in the South Cotabato, the region’s top rice producer.
The US$5.9-B mining project is expected to generate billions in taxes and royalty fees and will have a life span of up to 25 years.
SMI earlier planned to commence commercial operation in 2016, but it will likely reset their production target following the denial of its ECC application. The Catholic Church and environment groups also continue to oppose the project.
SMI is hoping a new mining policy promised by the government will reconcile existing national and local laws and allow the company to proceed with the project.
President Benigno Aquino III has said he will likely sign an executive order on mining on Friday, June 22. – Rappler.com
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