More violence at Xstrata's Philippine project
Once again there has been a violent incident at Xstrata's Tampakan project over the Christmas holiday period (for earlier instances see Xstrata under attack in the Philippines and Another assassination in the Philippines). This time security operatives, working for an affiliate of UK-based Securicor, have been injured in an armed attack on company offices.
Although the attack was initially attributed to the communist New People's Army (NPA), once again the source of conflict appears to be the resistance of local people to the mining project. Members of the B'laan tribe have frequently asserted their right to defend themselves against company encroachment on their land (even if this is less well reported than NPA violence and extortion).
This incident follows a 4-day march by local activists against the project, and more fall-out from the continuing battle between the local & national government over whether the province's ban on open-cast mining will apply to the project.
2 workers of mining firm hurt in rebels attack
23 December 2010
COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Xinhua) - Suspected leftist rebels attacked a mining firm in the southern Philippines, leaving two company workers wounded, a military official said on Wednesday.
Undetermined number of New Peoples Army stormed one of the headquarters of Sagittarius Mines, Incorporated (SMI) in the village of Tablu in Tampakan town of South Cotabato, regional police spokesman Chief Inspector Alexis Yap.
The incident left two company workers wounded and troops were deployed in the area, he said.
In 2009, leftist rebels, as part of their campaign against mining operation, attacked the police station of Tampakan town, resulting to the wounding of four people.
The SMI, which is exploring gold and copper deposits in the boundaries of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Davao Del Sur, is partly owned by Australian-listed firm Xstrata Plc., a subsidiary of the Switzerland-based mining group Xstrata.
The Tampakan mine, which SMI has been developing, is Xstrata's largest copper development project in Asia.
It is considered one of Southeast Asia's largest untapped copper mineral resources with an estimated yield of 11.6 million tons of copper and 14.6 million ounces of gold.
Tribal resident shoots two security guards of Sagittarius Mines in S. Cotabato
Philippine News Agency (PNA)
20 December 2010
GENERAL SANTOS CITY - A disgruntled tribal resident shot and wounded two security guards manning the drilling site of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) in a remote village in Tampakan, South Cotabato before dawn on Monday.
Manolo Labor, SMI external affairs communication superintendent, told reporters Monday the attack ensued at past 4 a.m. near a company exploration site in Barangay Tablu in Tampakan town.
Labor said the suspect was initially identified as a member of the B'laan tribe who had been barricading the area as part of the protests against the company's operation.
The names of the security guards were not immediately available.
Labor said that members of the military-led Task Force Kitaco have been deployed to secure the area.
Maj. Rembert Baylosis, Task Force Kitaco commander, said the attack happened in Sitio Datal Aliong in Barangay Tablu in Tampakan, some 10 kilometers away from the base camp.
Baylosis said the wounded security guards suffered shrapnel wounds from a 12-gauge shotgun.
The victims were already declared out of danger and recuperating at a hospital in Koronadal City.
Labor said the company immediately recalled its field personnel, who were conducting drilling activities in the area for security reasons.
"Field works were initially suspended. Workers were escorted back to the base camp (hours after the incident)," Labor said.
He said the workers were later allowed to resume work provided they seek clearance from top company officials.
He clarified that the incident did not occur at the base camp of the company in Barangay Tablu.
"The security guards were on routine roving patrol near the drilling sites (when the shooting happened)," he said.
The company is being secured by Catena Security, Inc. an affiliate of England-based Group Four Securicor, or G4S, "one of the world's leading security firms".
Catena was hired by the company after the New People's Army (NPA) rebels raided its base camp and burned several facilities on New Year's Day in 2008.
The NPA rebels burned the firm's administration office and several mining equipment worth at least P12 million. They also disarmed and took several firearms of the security guards then manning the base camp.
No one was hurt in the attack although the NPA rebels also managed to keep at bay government security forces manning an Army detachment some 500 meters away from the base camp.
Early in 2009, the communist guerrillas, as part also of its campaign against SMI, attacked the police station of Tampakan town, resulting to the wounding of four people, including three policemen. (PNA)
NPA 'extortion' vs mining firms to be raised in govt-NDF talks
JAM L. SISANTE, GMANews.TV
28 December 2010
The government peace panel will raise the issue of "revolutionary tax" when talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF) resume next year, a Palace spokesperson said Tuesday.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte made the statement after reports saying seven mining companies in Mindanao complained of extortion through the so-called revolutionary tax the Communist Party of the Philippines' armed wing the New People's Army imposed on them.
Valte said the government panel that will negotiate with the National Democratic Front (NDF) - the CPP's political arm - will raise the issue even during the informal talks in January because, she said, extortion by communist rebels could drive investors away.
Last Monday, the military claimed seven mining firms operating in the Caraga region in Mindanao had complained of extortion by the NPA, which had vowed to step up attacks against miners for allegedly destroying the environment and exploiting workers.
The military said the NPA was planning to increase its revolutionary tax from P15 million to as high as P25 million a month, which the mining firms cannot afford.
"It's a peace and order issue, so we must find away to secure [our investors]. We can't let this happen to them," she told Palace reporters in Filipino.
"We have to ensure that there is stability," she added.
Pockets of armed clashes continue to mar the 18-day ceasefire both camps had declared in preparation for the resumption of informal peace talks in January and formal negotiations in February.
The holiday truce began on December 16 and will end on January 3.
Valte said the government peace panel, headed by Alex Padilla, will also talk to the concerned mining firms, which the military did not identify as requested.
She said the military is also tightening security in the areas concerned, adding the government will not condone illegal acts.
The NDF backed out of peace negotiations in 2004 to protest the refusal of the Philippine government under then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to lobby the US and the European Union (EU) to remove the CPP-NPA from their international terrorist list.
President Benigno Aquino III has vowed to pursue peace talks with communist rebels, saying the government is still determined to push through with negotiations despite recent armed encounters between NPA members and government forces. - LBG, GMANews.TV
South Cotabato stance on mining most moderate, says vice gov
By Dani Doguiles
PIA Press Release
22 December 2010
Koronadal City - "Of all the provinces in the country that are opposed to mining, South Cotabato has the most moderate stance," according to Vice Governor Elmo Tolosa.
At the yearend media conference of the Provincial Information Office in Lake Sebu, Tolosa pointed out that only South Cotabato has not declared a total ban on mining.
He told members of the media that at least five provinces have passed ordinances and resolutions imposing moratorium on mining.
"Puerto Princesa (Palawan) and General Generoso (Davao Oriental), for example, declared total ban on mining. What we have banned in South Cotabato is only the use of open-pit mining method," he explained.
Unfortunately, he added, the issue on the province's environment code gets most media mileage because the Tampakan copper-gold mining project of the Saguitarrius Mines, Inc. (SMI), believe to be the biggest single investment in the Philippines, will be operational in 2013.
"While we welcome investments and the progress that these investments bring to the province, we have to balance development and progress with our concerns on the protection of nature and the environment," he said.
He added that the concern for the protection of the natural resources and livelihood of the residents of the province is the primary reason why the local government passed the environment code, specifically banning open-pit mining method.
"Invoking our local regulatory powers, we declared a prohibition of a specific method of mining," he emphasized. "We have not totally banned mining, because that would be unconstitutional."
According to reports, the mines in nearby Tampakan town is the largest undeveloped copper-gold resource in the South-East Asia Western-Pacific region. Estimates show that the mine holds 2,400 metric tons of copper, gold and molybdenum.
SMI, a subsidiary of giant mining firm Xstrata based in Australia, plans to quarry the copper and gold in the area using open-pit mining method.
In June this year, the provincial government headed by Gov. Daisy Avance-Fuentes (now 2nd District representative), passed Ordinance No. 4 or the Provincial Environment Code.
Paragraph 22 of the ordinance specifically bans open-pit mining.
The code is seen as the major hindrance to the operations of SMI in Tampakan.
In November, Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Jesse Robredo sent a memorandum directing the Sangguniang Panlalawigan to "review and revisit" the code in the pretext that it violates the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.
Same memo enjoins the local government to cause the "immediate suspension of the implementation of the said ordinance pending its review."
At present, the SP is preparing a resolution stipulating their rejoinder to the chief's memorandum. (PIA 12)
Envi Group, Church to Robredo: Respect local autonomy
SCAN Press Release
14 December 2010
Koronadal City - A local environmental alliance today urged Dept. of Interior and Local Government Sec. Jesse Robredo to immediately withdraw his memorandum calling for the suspension of the environmental code pending its review. The group also praised Gov. Arthur Y. Pinggoy's decision to implement the open-pit mining ban in the province.
Sr. Susan Bolanio, OND, spokesperson of the SOCSKSARGEN Climate Action Now is disappointed over Robredo's insistence that the provincial government of South Cotabato should strike down the local ordinance that bans open-pit mining. "We're afraid that the DILG is now abandoning its mandate in favor of extractive industries. Pres. Aquino made it clear in his SONA that the people are his boss. The people have already spoken - they want it (environmental code) to be implemented as soon as possible," she said.
SCAN is a multi-sectoral group working with communities in the SOCSKSARGEN bio-region against extractive industries and for climate justice.
"We consider Sec. Robredo‘s memorandum order an affront to the spirit and intent of the environmental code," said Fr. Romeo Catedral, director of the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Marbel. The Diocese of Marbel considers Ordinance No. 4, s. 2010 landmark legislation as it empowers local leadership to enhance their management, protection and preservation of their resources.
"The DILG has no business dictating to LGUs how it should run its affairs that is not the essence of local autonomy enshrined in the Local Government Code", he added.
In a memorandum issued last November 9, 2010, DILG Sec. Robredo directed Gov. Pinggoy to to "cause the immediate suspension of the implementation of said Ordinance pending its review."
Catedral said that the DILG memorandum is replete with errors and is substantially flawed.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) had earlier expressed alarm over the enactment of the environment code as it will affect the operations of the $5.9 billion Tampakan copper-gold project. SMI-Xstrata, the project proponent, is targeting to start production in 2016.
Other foreign investors have also conveyed their concern over the open-pit ban. On the other hand, a number of local government units have made similar actions to close their municipalities to large-scale mining.
Jean Marie Ferraris of the Legal Rights Center (LRC) said that DILG acted beyond its powers. "It is the court that should decide whether the environment code is constitutional and valid. The environment code is landmark legislation in its own right and Sec. Robredo should be happy to know that there are LGUs that are bold enough to hold in supremacy the welfare of their people," she said.
Sec. Jesse Robredo was cited in 1999 by Asiaweek for promoting peoples' participation during his stint as Naga City mayor.
Sr. Susan O. Bolanio, OND
Fr. Romeo Catedral
Social Action Center-Diocese of Marbel
Governor sticks to open pit mining ban
Philippine Daily Inquirer
11 December 2010
KORONADAL CITY, Philippines-South Cotabato Governor Arthur Pinggoy on Friday said he has to enforce the ban on open pit mining in the province because he believed it was not illegal.
The ban, formulated by the provincial board early this year, was seen as the biggest stumbling block to the operation of Switzerland-based Xstrata, through its subsidiary Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI), in Tampakan town.
The Tampakan mines is touted to be one of Asia's biggest find in decades and contain enormous copper and gold deposits.
SMI has lobbied the national government for the lifting of the ban but Pinggoy said it will stay unless modified or struck down by a court order.
Pinggoy said even the statement of Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo that the provincial government of South Cotabato did not have the power to ban open pit mining would not make him suspend the implementation of the provincial ordinance.
Robredo cited the Mining Act of 1995. He said it did not prohibit open pit mining.
"A local government ordinance cannot undo an act of Congress," Robredo was quoted as saying.
"My point here is that who will nullify the code? Is it the DILG or a judicial body?" asked the governor.
Pinggoy also said if he failed to enforce the provincial ordinance, then he would be charged with not doing his job.
"There is a provision in the ordinance that says if the governor, me in this case, will not implement the code I will be administratively charged," he added.
Pinggoy said the only thing he promised Robredo was a review of the ordinance.
"I told him we will review our environmental code," he said.
Militant groups and anti-mining advocates have sided with the provincial government of South Cotabato.
During a protest march here last week, anti-mining advocates lambasted Robredo for issuing a memorandum asking the provincial government of South Cotabato to review the Provincial Environment Code.
Robredo, they said, has no right to dictate on the local leaders of South Cotabato.
Ryan Lariba, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) spokesperson in South Cotabato-Sarangani-General Santos City, said Robredo must respect local autonomy.
Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez, of the Diocese of Marbel, also said he was hoping that Pinggoy will not give in to pressures from the national government.
"The people of South Cotabato continue to remember your commitment during the campaign period to oppose open pit mining and support the passage of the environment code," Gutierrez said in his strongly worded letter to Pingoy in September.
Gutierrez sent the letter to the governor in reaction to a report that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources was expecting a breakthrough in the resumption of talks to lift the open pit mining ban in South Cotabato.
Gutierrez said the code was discussed and deliberated upon by the previous members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan for more than five years before it was finally approved. Jeoffrey Maitem and Aquiles Zonio, Inquirer Mindanao
Anti-mining protestors end 150km march vs Sagittarius Mines
By Bong S. Sarmiento
11 December 2010
GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/10 Dec) - Anti-mining activists opposing a proposed giant mining project in South Cotabato ended their 150-kilometer four-day march cum caravan upon arriving in Digos City in Davao del Sur around 10 a.m. today.
This despite alleged harassments and delays when unidentified men threw metal spikes that deflated the tires of four vehicles.
Directed against foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc., more than 400 protestors finished the day's march that started in Padada town beginning at 5:30 a.m., said Ryan Lariba, secretary-general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-Socsksargen chapter.
The march-caravan kicked off in Koronadal City in South Cotabato last Tuesday with about 50 militant and environmental activists, their number swelling as they reached certain places.
Its culmination was timed in celebration today of International Human Rights Day.
The protestors held rallies in Tampakan in South Cotabato, General Santos City and Malalag in Davao del Sur, areas where Sagittarius Mines will operate.
Sagittarius Mines has listed Tampakan town as its principal office but currently performs administrative and operational functions in this city apparently due to security concerns.
In two separate occasions since 2008, the communist New People's Army had successfully launched violent attacks against the mining firm and the local police command.
The protestors marched last Thursday around Malalag, Davao del Sur, where Sagittarius Mines plans to build a coal-fired plant dedicated solely for its operation.
"Despite the harassments, we were able to complete the long march with wide support from the people, including the religious sector," Lariba said.
"With the march, [I think] we have implanted in the public mind the strong message to oppose the large-scale mining ventures," he added.
On Wednesday afternoon, unidentified men on board a motorcycle threw suyaks (spikes) at the caravan while traversing Barangay Batomelong in General Santos City, Lariba reported.
From the first day of the protest dubbed "March Against Large-Scale Mining and Human Rights Violations," Lariba said their caravan were purportedly stopped seven times in military and police checkpoints.
Manolo T. Labor, Sagittarius Mines external communications superintendent, said they welcome the opposition waged against the Tampakan project, touted as the largest undeveloped copper-gold deposit in Southeast Asia.
"The concerns of the opposition will help us assess on how to go with the project. We respect and welcome their views as we did in a recent public scoping where representatives from the Diocese of Marbel were allowed to read their statement and ask questions about the project," Labor said in a separate interview on Friday.
The diocese has been stoutly opposing the Tampakan project on concerns over the environment, human health and food security. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)
‘Stopping Tampakan mine project is justice for my husband'
By Germelina Lacorte
7 December 2010
DAVAO CITY -The widow of a slain anti-mining activist said that if the government could not go after her husband's killers, she would consider stopping the Tampakan gold-copper mining project enough justice for her husband.
"If the mining operation of Xstrata be stopped, I would consider that the first step in the quest for justice for my husband," Emily Billanez, widow of anti-mining activist Eleazar Billanez, told reporters during the Mindanao human rights summit at the Green Heights Convention Center in Buhangin here.
She said that over a year after the killing of her husband, no investigation has been conducted and no case has been filed in court because there were no witnesses willing enough to identify the perpetrators.
Billanes, who was killed on March 9 last year, entered the long list of political activists who became victims of extrajudicial killings under the Arroyo administration.
Emily said she no longer expects justice because her husband's "enemies" can afford to hire killers.
"Budlay na matagaan og hustisya kay ang kanila kalaban makwarta, kag makasugo kung kinsa pamatyon, kami, walay kwarta (It's quite unlikely that he'll be given justice because his enemies are rich, they can ask somebody to kill a person, while we don't have money)," Emily said.
"No witness who could point to the suspect was willing to come out so that no investigation ever took place," she added.
That's why, she said, she will consider it enough justice for her husband's death if the operation of the mining company her husband had had fought against would be stopped even if the killers are not caught.
Billanes was killed in front of a magazine stand at the public market in Koronadal City where he was buying a newspaper.
Shortly before his death, Billanes had been attending dialogs with soldiers, who were trying to organize Task Force Kitaco (Kiblawan, Tampakan and Columbio) to protect mining interests in the area.
The Tampakan mining project, which is controlled by Xstrata Copper, the world's fourth largest copper producer, is touted as the largest undeveloped copper-gold project in Southeast Asia. It straddles the towns of Tampakan in South Cotabato, Kiblawan in Davao del Sur and Columbio in Sultan Kudarat.
Emily Billanes was one of over 300 participants to the human rights summit, which called on the Aquino government to make the previous administration accountable for over 1,000 extrajudicial killings and 200 cases of enforced disappearances.
Bishop Felixbero Calang, convenor of Barug Katungod Mindanao, however, said that in the first six months of the Aquino administration, the human rights group Karapatan has already monitored 20 cases of extrajudicial killings, surpassing the 14 cases registered in the first six months of the Arroyo administration
"The situation now is much scarier. The culture of impunity continues because stopping it is not in the agenda of the present administration. The new administration merely extended the life of the previous administration's counterinsurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya blamed for the extrajudicial killing of activists," Calang said.