The Diocese of Marbel launches a signature campaign for the maintenance of the ban on surface mining in the south of Cotabato

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / Aug 16) – A Catholic Church-led signature campaign demanding the continuation of the controversial ban on surface mining in southern Cotabato was launched on Monday, with organizers vowing to make mining an electoral issue for the sake of the environment, food security and for future generations.

The Bishop of the Diocese of Marbel, Cerilo Casicas, urged parishioners, especially young people, to make the signature campaign viral by stressing that areas without internet service will be reached through Gagmay’ng Kristohanong Katilingban or communities basic Christians.

Fog blankets a community at the Sagittarius Mines, Inc. mining development site in Tampakan, south Cotabato. MindaNews archive photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

“Certainly, the Diocese of Marbel will make mining and the environment an important issue in the next elections. This will be part of the discernment in the choice of candidates ”, declared the prelate.

Casicas, however, noted that the diocese will have to collectively decide whether candidates will be distinguished based on their stance on the open-pit method of mining, which the South Cotabato provincial government banned a decade ago through its environmental code.

During the tenure of the late Bishop of Marbel, Dinualdo Gutierrez, a staunch defender of mine action and immediate predecessor of Casicas, the diocese launched a campaign during the 2013 elections dubbed “Team Pabor-Team Ayaw”, which aimed to educate local voters at the helm. of candidates regarding the $ 5.9 billion Tampakan project.

Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) is the developer of the Tampakan Project, touted as the largest known undeveloped copper and gold minefield in Southeast Asia, through a Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA ) granted by the national government.

SMI studies have shown that the most viable way to extract massive mineral deposits is by surface mining.

Casicas said it has launched the signature campaign to uphold the provincial ban on the surface mining method in order to protect the nature and integrity of creation.

The prelate noted that parishioners should sign the campaign of their own accord.

The signature campaign carries the slogan “Protect nature, protect our future”. The campaign materials have translated versions in English, Ilonggo, Cebuano, Blaan and t’boli.

“We demand that the Sanggunian Panlalawigan of South Cotabato stand firm in their duty to ensure the safety, convenience and well-being of their constituents,” he said.

“The Provincial Environmental Code and its provision specifically prohibiting surface mining must be observed. It is the right thing to do and to ensure that future generations inherit a better society enjoying the fruits of a healthy environment, ”he added.

The Iglesia Filipina Independiente, Alyansa Tigil Mina, Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center-Kasama sa Kalikasan and Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc., among others, supported the signature campaign.

Bro. Jérôme Millan, director of the Center for Social Action of the diocese, declared that the 29 parishes of the diocesan territory would be in the front line to encourage the faithful to affix their signature to the campaign.

“There will be a massive education awareness on why the surface mining ban should stay. They (the parishioners) will be led to understand and not just to sign the campaign for the simple pleasure of signing ”, declared the priest.

The diocese covers all the provinces of Cotabato Sud and Sarangani and parts of Sultan Kudarat, all of which are regions dominated by Christians.

Sangguniang Panlalawigan had started consultations after Mandatory Indigenous Peoples Representatives (IPMRs) from several towns in southern Cotabato called for the ban on surface mining to be lifted. The IPMR demand was rooted in the economic contributions of the Tampakan project to the localities overlapped by the company.

Millan noted that lifting the provincial ban on the surface mining method will open the doors for the Tampakan project to move into commercial production.

“Let’s not allow that. The Tampakan project is a great threat to food security and the environment in the region, ”he added.

Roy Antonio, head of corporate relations at SMI, has not yet responded to requests for comment on the signing campaign launched by the Diocese of Marbel to maintain the ban on the surface mining method.

In October 2020, Judge Vicente Peña, Acting President of the Regional Court of First Instance 11e Judicial Region Branch 24, rejected a petition from tribal councils in favor of the SMI mining company to revoke the ban on surface mining in southern Cotabato.

In a 31-page promulgation, Peña wrote that “the ban on surface mining in southern Cotabato is not invalid, but rather legal and in accordance with the Philippine Local Government Code and Constitution “.

Billed as the largest known undeveloped copper and gold minefield in Southeast Asia, 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 17-year mine life.

A motorist walks past the deserted office of Sagittarius Mines, Inc. in poblacion Tampakan, South Cotabato. The company now has an office along the national road in Polomolok, in the south of Cotabato. MindaNews archive photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

The Certificate of Environmental Compliance (ECC) granted to SMI was revoked in 2017 by the late Secretary of the Environment Gina Lopez, after a review by her agency, due to the company’s alleged non-compliance with the conditions and requirements. authorization set by the ECC.

The late Secretary of the Environment also banned the surface mining method.

SMI’s ECC, however, was reinstated by the President’s office on May 6, 2019. Omar Saikol, Director of Environmental Management Office – Region 12, revealed this development to reporters here in July 2020.

SMI also obtained an extension of its 25-year FTAA, which was due to expire on March 21, 2020, for 12 years until March 21, 2032. The FTAA can be renewed for an additional 25 years.

The National Commission of Indigenous Peoples had granted the Tampakan project the certification prerequisite (CP).

CP is a certification that Indigenous Cultural Communities (ICCs) have given their consent to the mining company in their ancestral domain and that the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) process has been satisfactorily respected by the company.

Casicas said the Tampakan project “does not have the FPIC of all of the Blaan CPIs at the mine development site,” stressing that the project will not bring real development to this part of the country.

The Diocese has created the following link for the online signature reader: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/12FRUq2_urbZP42oBOzCOUT2FPrm0d3wupqe4IRLHvZ0/viewform?edit_requested=true (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)

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