Sultan Kudarat municipality receives P3-million grant for pro-poor projects

John Unson - Philstar.com
Sultan Kudarat municipality receives P3-million grant for pro-poor projects
Julius Clarete of the Sagittarius Mines Inc. (right) turned over this week to Columbio Mayor Edwin Bermudez a voucher and the P1.5 million check for municipal peace and development projects.
Philstar.com / John Unson

KORONADAL CITY, Philippines — The pro-poor projects of the Columbio municipal government got a P3 million grant from a private firm planning to mine for copper in one of its constituent-barangays.

Columbio Mayor Edwin Bermudez said Saturday he received a P1.5 million check from Sagittarius Mines Inc., or SMI, on Wednesday, turned over to him by representatives of the mining outfit.

The municipality of Columbio in Sultan Kudarat is holder of the vaunted Seal of Good Local Governance from the central office of the Department of the Interior and Local Government.

SMI representatives also delivered on the same day a separate P1.5 million worth check to Hadja Bai Naila Mamalinta, barangay chairwoman of Datal Blao, Columbio for activities meant to provide socio-economic empowerment to local Muslim, Blaan and non-Blaan communities.

Bermudez and Mamalinta separately told reporters Saturday they are grateful to SMI’s continuing costly humanitarian programs in Columbio despite the company's not even having started operating yet since its inception 20 years ago.

The SMI’s supposed extraction since the 1990s of copper and gold in Sitio Salnaong in Barangay Datalblao, Columbio and in a number of barangays in the towns of Tampakan in South Cotabato, in Malungon, Sarangani and in Kiblawan, Davao del Sur is being opposed by outsider religious communities and anti-mining groups.

“We know that the SMI already spent P200 million for education, health, livelihood and infrastructure projects in these four municipalities where it intends to extract copper and gold even if it has not done that yet. That is now a two-decade, seemingly elusive dream,” Mamalinta, a scion of a noble clan in Maguindanao province, said.

The copper-rich Sitio Salnaong is home to hundreds of indigenous highland Blaan families benefiting from the joint humanitarian projects of Bermudez, Mamalinta and the SMI.

“We in Barangay Datalblao are not against the planned operation of SMI in Sitio Salnaong. I’m calling on the groups in faraway areas outside of our municipality to listen to our wishes for this firm to proceed with its planned operation unimpeded,” Mamalinta said.

The 25-year-old Sandy Rose Antonio, an employee of the Columbio local government unit who finished college as an SMI scholar, said the firm must be permitted to extract copper in their municipality and in nearby towns for its tertiary education scholarship program to continue.

Records from the LGUs of Columbio, Tampakan, Malungon and Kiblawan showed that the SMI had, in the past 15 years, produced 775 college graduates from the local communities, many of them now gainfully employed in private and government entities.

“The SMI shouldered our tuition fees and provided us monthly allowances so consistently. Ironically, it is the people from outside of the towns where it wants to mine for copper and gold that are opposing its planned mining operation,” Antonio lamented.

Basser Manre, principal of Eday Elementary School in Columbio, said their LGU and SMI are helping each other produce tutorial modules for schools now into distance learning programs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The SMI gave our municipality a high-end mimeographing machine for that. It has also provided the Eday Elementary School with an audiovisual facility that the school administration cannot afford to buy,” Manre, an ethnic Maguindanaon, said.

Mamalinta, an adopted Blaan leader in Datalblao, said the local communities are “so uncomfortable” with the opposition of non-resident groups and outsider religious blocs to the planned  operation of SMI.

“People in Columbio are not against any mining activity in Sitio Salnaong in Barangay Datalblao,” she said.



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