Bishop criticizes SMI for claiming religious groups support its Tampakan mining project

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / December 11) – Bishop Cirilo Casicas of the Diocese of Marbel in southern Cotabato has slammed the developer of Tampakan’s controversial $ 5.9 billion (P 297 billion at current rates) project for having claimed in a legislative hearing that the local religious sector had given support to the largest undeveloped copper-gold minefield in Southeast Asia.

Sangguniang Panlalawigan of southern Cotabato held a special session in Koronadal town on Thursday, December 9, regarding petitions to lift the surface mining ban imposed by the provincial government since 2010. It was broadcast live on Facebook.

Residents of South Cotabato staged an anti-mining protest on June 10, 2010, as they welcomed the passage of the provincial government’s environmental code the day before banning surface mining. A foreign mining company plans to extract huge amounts of gold and copper deposits in the municipality of Tampakan and surrounding areas using surface mining. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO

In his presentation, Roy Antonio, head of SMI business relations at Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI), the company behind the Tampakan project, said the project had the support of local church groups but did not named none.

Bishop Casicas, who was able to make his presentation after at least five hours of sitting and listening to the proceedings, vehemently denied SMI’s claim that the local religious sector supported the Tampakan project.

“I’m the bishop here (South Cotabato), which has an 80 percent Catholic population… How can you claim that you have the support of the religious sector? Since then, we have firmly opposed the Tampakan project, ”he stressed.

The Bishop of Marbel Cerilo Casicas submits the initial signatures calling on the Sangguniang Panlalawigan to maintain the ban on surface mining in southern Cotabato. on Monday, October 4, 2021 in Koronadal City. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Marbel

Casicas said the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, the National Council of Churches of the Philippines, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, the Anglican Church and the Provincial Episcopal Church have joined the diocese to fight against the project of Tampakan.

Even on social media, Casicas said “the sentiment is against SMI.”

“Vox populi, vox dei (the voice of the people is the voice of God,” he said, noting that the Tampakan project has no social acceptability.

He challenged the mining company to match the signatures collected by the diocese which asked Sangguniang Panlalawigan to maintain the ban on mining the surface mine.

The bishop said they had collected at least 93,000 signatures since the campaign began in August, including 40,000 within the diocese.

Antonio could not answer because it was already evening but earlier in the audience he invited the diocese to appoint a representative to a multi-party monitoring body.

With the consent of the body, the vice-governor Vicente de Jesus, president of Sangguniang Panlalawigan, scheduled the resumption of the hearing on Monday afternoon, December 13.

Gateway to Sagittarius Mines, Inc. base camp in Tampakan, South Cotabato. MindaNews photo by BONG SARMIENTO

Earlier Thursday morning, Antonio revealed the company’s revised production plan – from a “large measure of production” over the mine’s planned life of 17 years to a phased mining program.

The Tampakan project has the potential to produce an average of 375,000 tonnes of copper and 360,000 ounces of gold in concentrate per year over the life of the mine, according to an earlier study by the company.

Based on the 2010 plan to extract an area of ​​9,500 hectares, he noted that the company will extract a quarter of it in 10 years, or phase 1, which is expected to produce 15 million tonnes of deposits.

“If we start big, the impact will be significant. But with the phased (approach), the impact will be “low … The mining footprint will be very small, including its environmental impact,” said Antonio.

Including phases 2 and 3, the Tampakan project could span 30 years, he added.

Antonio listed the economic contributions of the Tampakan project, although the business has yet to go to market.

He claimed that since 1995, when the financial or technical assistance agreement (FTAA) for the Tampakan project was granted by the government, the company has already invested 32 billion pesos.

Antonio said that since 2004, the company has paid taxes worth at least 2.6 billion pesos, most of it going into national government coffers.

A resident maneuvers the dirt road passing a bridge under construction in the Tampakan project area on January 16, 2020. Image by Bong S. Sarmiento

For phase 1 or the first 10 years if the company starts operations, Antonio said they plan to pay taxes worth 76.6 billion pesos and 4.8 billion pesos to national governments. and local, respectively, Antonio said.

Indigenous peoples in the project area could receive royalties equivalent to 1% of the company’s gross profits, amounting to 6.6 billion pesos in the first 10 years of the project, he said.

The company’s 25-year FTAA, which was set to expire on March 21, 2020, was extended for 12 years in an order dated June 8, 2016, but was not made public until January 2020. The 12-year extension will allow SMI to operate the mine until 2032, with the possibility of renewal for an additional 25 years or until 2057.

In 2017, then Environment Secretary Gina Lopez canceled the Tampakan Project’s Certificate of Environmental Compliance (ECC) “due to environmental and social concerns.”

But in July 2020, the regional office of the Bureau of Mines and Geosciences revealed that the president’s office had reinstated the ECC as early as May 6, 2019. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)

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