Tampakan mines project still a go despite activist deaths, UN concern

Source: 
By Inday Espina Varona, ABS-CBNnews.com - http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/focus/08/04/15/tampakan-mines-project-still-go-despite-activist-deaths-un-concern
Date of publication: 
4 August, 2015

MANILA – Ten murders; local government opposition; environmental warnings; a United Nations official’s alarm over the displacement of thousands of rural folk — there’s no stopping the controversial Tampakan mines project in Central Mindanao.

South Cotabato Gov. Daisy Avance-Fuentes told ABS-CBNnews.com the National Mining Coordinating Council decided to ignore the province’s opposition to Tampakan.

Avance-Fuentes denied reports that Malacanang green-lighted the Tampakan project.

But the mining council has dismissed the province’s environment code, which bans open-pit mining, she confirmed in a phone interview.

“They are leaving us alone to oppose the project,” Avance-Fuentes said, citing a report by the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (ULAP), which sits on the council. “The onus is on us.”

Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) Director Leo L. Jasareno confirmed Avance-Fuentes’ claim although he did discuss [not] the reported council resolution.

He told ABS-CBNnews.com the Philippine government would honor two contracts with Sagittarius Mines to explore and eventually mine a wide swathe of rugged land, ancestral home of the lumad peoples.

Tampakan sprawls across border towns of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Davao del Sur and Sarangani provinces.

“It continues to be a project because the mining contract between Sagittarius Mines and the Philippine government is valid and existing,” Jasareno said in a phone interview.

Under two contracts, Jasareno added, Sagitarrius has “obligations” to pursue exploration and, eventually, mining operations.

UN OFFICIAL ‘ALARMED’

Jasareno’s statements came days after a UN official expressed concern on the growing displacement of indigenous peoples due to development projects.

Dr. Chaloka Beyani, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, said the projects affecting some 5,000 indigenous peoples did not meet the threshold of “compelling and overriding public interest.”

The UN official visited several areas in Mindanao during a fact-finding mission from July 21 to 31.

“I was alarmed that tribal leaders reported that their communities were consistently being manipulated and divided and that they had been harassed and received threats when they expressed their opposition,” Beyani told reporters.

“Indeed some leaders and members of the indigenous communities have been killed over the past years reportedly due to their anti-mining activities,” the special rapporteur added.

Environmental group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) expressed outrage over developments, saying Tampakan could emerge as one the most destructive large-scale mines in Asia.

The IPs have paid a high price in their years of opposing the merger of multinational firms and local investors led by the powerful Alcantara clan.

“Tampakan’s trail of blood has sprawled from South Cotabato to Davao del Sur, since 1992,” Kalikasan national coordinator Clemente Bautista told ABS-CBNnews.com.

Since 2010, the conflict has killed 10 people, including an Italian missionary priest, and intermittently displaced thousands of families.

At stake are 24,000 hectares of ancestral lands, forests, and agricultural lands of indigenous people and peasants. The prize for investors: an estimated 2.4 billion metric tons of copper-gold deposits.

Sagittarius’ initial financial and technical assistance agreement signed by the Office of the President allows for the large-scale exploration, development and utilization of an estimated average of 360,000 ounces of gold and 375,000 tons of copper per annum. The open pit would spread across 500 hectares with a depth of 785 meters.

‘NO OPPOSITION’

Barely a week after Malacanang asked the Department of Environment and Narural Resources to review the environmental compliance certificate of Tampakan, the agency gave its final approval in February 2013.

A release by the DENR on the ECC approval quoted Secretary Ramon Paje as saying, “the area does not cover those where mining is prohibited.”

Sagittarius, the DENR secretary said, needs to “ensure social acceptability through consultation with stakeholders.”

The government, however, now believes Tampakan has received enough endorsement from affected communities.

“Walang oposisyon,” Jasareno said. (There is no opposition.) He said local councils in six towns, including Tampakan, endorsed the mining concession.

Of the four provinces, he added, the legislative councils of Sultan Kudarat, Davao del Sur and Sarangani gave the green light to Tampakan.

Barangay or village councils in most towns also approved the project, Jasareno said.

“It’s on the record. The project secured the endorsements of all sangguinang bayans,” he told ABS-CBNnews.com.

Under the law, he pointed out, Sagittarius can continue its activities. It is completing the requirements for a mining permit, the MGB head said.

VOLATILE MIX OF ISSUES

Among the most critical areas: IP, agrarian reform and security issues. It’s a volatile mix — the frequent sparks of conflicts.

Beyani said IP leaders are frustrated by the lack of consultation processes that meet the standards of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). He said IPs scored the government process for ignoring their broader views and rights to the land and the need to safeguard their indigenous cultures and lifestyles.

“The legitimate concerns and rights of indigenous peoples must not be side-lined but should be given the upmost priority as indicated in the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA),” the UN official reminded the government.

The ECC also mandates following regulations on the disposal of toxic and solid wastes, vegetative restoration, engineering structure, land use, and soil and water management, and erosion control.

The controversy forced Sagittarius to defer the start of commercial operations from 2016 to 2019.

Glencore Xstrata, an Anglo-Swiss conglomerate pulled out last month from the gold-copper project, said to be the largest foreign direct investment in the country. Its Australian partner, Indophil, has divested at the start of the year, ceding shares in Sagittarius Mines, Inc. to the Alsons Prime Investments Corp.

This leaves the powerful Alcantara clan, which has long ties to the family of President Benigno Aquino III, as a major player in Sagittarius.

Jasareno said even with the ECC, Sagittarius needs to comply with rules and regulations. But he said the agency had not yet found any violation.

With the government’s reiterated blessings, Sagittarius may be close to meeting its close of 2015 construction timetable. And in the central part the island of promise may, mountains will once more howl in grief and rage.