Perils of Tampakan copper-gold project in Mindanao
- Jun Pasaylo () - March 8, 2012 - 9:31am

(Last of 3 parts)

MANILA, Philippines – Besides the apparent indecision of the Aquino administration over its mining policy, the proposed  $6-billion Tampakan Copper-Gold project also has to contend with unrelenting opposition from various anti-mining advocates.

Sagittarius Mines Inc., the firm behind the proposed project, said that if the mine were approved, it would be the single largest Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the Philippines.

The project, the firm said, is expected to boost economic activities, infrastructure developments, and employment opportunities in the far-flung and poorest municipalities that host one of the biggest copper and gold deposits in the world.

But this failed to impress several anti-mining advocates. Anti-mining groups warned that the project would lead to environment degradation and would pose danger to populations living in the low-lying areas of the proposed mine site.

And the opposition has persisted even when majority of residents in the host communities live below poverty line and all other socio-economic indicators in the area remained among the worst in the country.

Environment, cultural issues

"The main issue in the project is its destructive effect in the environment," said environmental lawyer Luz Ramos of the SOCSKSARGEN Climate Action Now (SCAN).

The group said the open-pit exploration project within the 10,000-hectare area in the boundaries of Kiblawan town in Davao del Sur, Columbio in Sultan Kudarat, Malungon in Sarangani and Tampakan in South Cotabato would leave permanent damage to the environment.

Ramos also rejected claims by large mining firms that they adhere to responsible mining.

"There is no such thing as responsible mining. Mining spells destruction, ” she said. “Whatever (they) have to destroy [for their mining operations], will remain destroyed..."

Ramos said the arsenic and sulphur elements that the mining activities would unearth would leak out and contaminate the water in the area.

"More than that, the  [already] endangered culture of the B'laan tribe in the affected communities will eventually vanish because they will be  relocated and introduced to a new kind of life," added Ramos.

Likewise, the Diocese of Marbel, the leading campaigner  against the Tampakan Copper-Gold project, supported SCAN's position, saying that wealth  is  not worth destroying the environment.

The Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc. (PMPI), a network of church-based groups and non-government organizations, also rejected the "responsible mining" claims by corporations such as SMI.

PMPI  said responsible mining would be impossible because historical records have shown that foreign-operated mineral extraction has led to the gross disregard  of free prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples, unchecked environmental crimes and disrespect for the socio-economic, cultural and political rights of mining-affected communities.

Fr. Edwin Gariguez, PMPI co-convenor and executive secretary of Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines- National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace (CBCP-NASSA), said there is a need for greater accountability of mining corporations especially in the area of corporate abuses.

Myrna Llanes, alternate point person of PMPI-Bicol, said  they have yet to see punishment imposed on the mining corporations responsible for the Rapu-Rapu mining disaster in 2005   in Albay.

The Rapu-Rapu mine tailings dam bursts in 2005 and affected the source of staple food and livelihood of residents in the area.

The Lafayette Mining Ltd. of Australia, which operated Rapu-Rapu mines, declared bankruptcy and discontinued its operations three years after the incident.

Potential economic driver

Lawyer Christian Monsod, an advocate of responsible mining, urged the Aquino administration to consider the economic benefits of the mining industry.

"I acknowledge that mining has potential in helping the economy," Monsod said in a media briefing in San Juan City, while noting that the mining wealth in the country could  amount as much as  $840 billion.

"But take a look at all the mining applications. If we would continue to mine all the minerals, we would be like the moon," Monsod said.

To prevent over-mining, Monsod proposed four conditions, including profit-sharing arrangement between the government and the private mining companies.

He said the government should also consider the environmental,social and economic cost of those who will be affected by the operations.

"Monies from mining should be put in a trust fund to put up capital, natural wealth, improvement of human resources and structure, and to use it for those adversely affected by mining," Monsod added.

At present, Monsod said the mining industry only contributes less than 1 percent of the gross domestic product  of the country.

But SMI  believes that its copper-gold project in Tampakan would help the  economy, saying that the project could contribute an average of 1 percent in the country's GDP growth annually within its 20-year mine life.

With its 15 million tonnes of copper and 17.9 million ounces of gold deposits, the mining undertaking is considered as one of the largest in the world.

Managing impacts

SMI also said it has exerted efforts to reduce the  adverse environmental impact of the open-pit mining program.

SMI workers conduct intensive study on flora and fauna in the Tampakan mine site. (SMI Photo)

Anaclito Suelto Jr., an official of SMI who handles environmental concerns, said the mining firm has already laid down its environmental protection programs, including its post-mining programs, before its target exploration in 2016. SMI has acquired interest in the project in 2001.

Water flows, such as those that drain at Taplan River amd that are intercepted both during and post-mining activities would be fully compensated and would be restored to their pre-mining operation condition.

"We have wastewater programs, water treatment plants that meet international regulations," he said  at a briefing.

Suelto said SMI would adhere to the  highest international standard of responsible mining, including respecting cultural practices and traditions of the host communities.

SMI added that it has  a 10-year post mining program to ensure that the affected area would be restored. It also  promised an environmental guarantee fund should any accident occurred after the 20-year mine life.

On its plan to manage the operation impact, SMI said all water that is to be discharged from the mine area will be treated to ensure that low-lying communities continue to receive water that is suitable for all purposes.

SMI also has a reforestration project in the affected areas, and currently hosts tree nursery facilities in the towns of Tampakan and Kiblawan.

The firm  said that over 70 percent of target mine site were heavily logged and cleared through continuous slash-and-burn farming, which serves as the  main source of livelihood of the people in the area.

SMI is also planning to put up  various infrastructires such as a waste rock storage facility, waste rock and ore conveyors, concentrator, fresh water dam, tailing storage facility, a coal-fired power station, filter plant, concentrate pipelines, and a port in the coastal town of Malalag in Davao del Sur.

But Ramos remains unconvinced. “You cannot cure water contaminated by arsenic,” she said. “Remember, when nature calls, it will not wait for you to listen. Nature will come rushing down trampling all those on its way. Remember Sendong.”  (With Keith Bacongco and Dennis Carcamo)

1st of 3 parts, click here

2nd of 3 parts, click here

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