MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Philippines: Visiting Canadian MP told to regulate mining companies

Published by MAC on 2012-11-19
Source: Statement, Inquirer, Davao Today, Mindanews

When  Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited the Philippines on 9 November, he was reminded of the obligations that Canadian mining companies operating in the country have both to human rights and to the environment.

From the Marcopper disaster to the operations of TVI Pacific and Mindoro Resources Ltd., Canadian companies have been accused of abusive behaviour, with calls for tougher regulations (or just for the companies to leave).

The irony of the annual Mines Safety Conference taking place in Baguio in the Cordillera region, while the clean-up after Philex's massive tailings leak continues, has not been lost on many commentators. Louie Sarmiento, president of the Philippine Mine Safety and Environment Association (PMSEA) responded to criticisms by noting "As an organization, we are saddened because Philex is one of the most responsible mining companies in the country, and we never wanted that kind of accident to happen".

So that's all right then? Companies have offered to come together to assist with the clean-up (which in terms of volume is 10 times worse than the Marcopper spill), but protesters at the meeting were not to be dismissed with empty promises.

The Philippine publication Mindanews has produced a good summary article on the situation in Tampakan which it reviews in relation to the recent  killings of Juvy Capion and her sons (see: Philippines: Tampakan violence claims the lives of tribal woman and her children).

The increased violence against anti-mining advocates has also been taken up by Friends of the Earth International, which has expressly called on the Philippine government to take action.

Green groups to Canadian PM: mine your own business!

Joint Press Release

9 November 2012

MAKATI CITY - Environmental activists trooped to the Canadian Embassy today to greet the arrival of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper with protests decrying long-standing environmental crimes of Canadian mining corporations in the Philippines.

Calling for the immediate pull-out of errant Canadian miners from the country, the Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE), joined by the Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas, Promotion for Church People's Response, AGHAM-Advocates of Science & Technology for the People, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Task Force-Justice for Environment Defenders (TF-JED) and Batangas-based Bukluran para sa Inang Kalikasan, also challenged Harper to hasten the resolution of long-standing cases against known mining disasters caused by Canadian companies.

"The people will never forget the death of Boac River in Marinduque province when an estimated 1.6 million metric tons of toxic mine tailings inundated the river system in 1996. The Marcopper Mining Corporation, a subsidiary of Canadian company Placer Dome and the perpetrator of the disaster, has yet to indemnify the hundreds of victim families 16 years later," said Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE

Boac River was the source of livelihood for hundreds of families, but was declared biologically dead because of the Marcopper mine spill. Residents suffered from skin and respiratory problems, water contamination, destruction of homes and livelihoods, and even the death of at least three children due to heavy metal poisoning.

Majority shares of Placer Dome were acquired in 2006 by Barrick Gold, another Canadian mining company.

"Harper should note that his country's mining giants violate environment and human rights standards, clearly not as advertised. TVIRD, the local affiliate of Canadian miner TVI Pacific, had two mine tailings spilling incidents in 2004 and 2007 in its Canatuan gold project in Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte. It is also implicated in various incidents of human rights violations, including the recent frustrated murder of Subanen tribal chieftain Timuay Locenio Manda," said Bautista.

The attempted assassination of Manda resulted in the death of his 11 year-old son, Jordan. TVIRD personnel were also involved in other incidences of violent human rights violations, such as the killing of a small-scale miner, Wilbert Catampungan, and the wounding of his two companions only this July.

"While these atrocities made by Canadian mining firms continue to occur as we speak, more Canadian miners are pouring into the country as we speak. In Batangas province, two open-pit miners, Crazy Horse and MRL Gold, will cover critical upland forest ecosystems and fertile agricultural lands if their projects push through. Their projected effects can even affect the rich Batangas Bay and the Verde Island Passage, declared by marine biologists as the Center of the Center of Marine Shorefish Biodiversity in 2006," lamented Bautista.

The mine project of Crazy Horse, covering 4,085.9202 hectares of land, have been approved by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau to be converted into a Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA), which Bautista said will "allow for 100-percent foreign ownership of Batangas' land and give Crazy Horse incentives and auxiliary rights that will deplete the country's mineral patrimony at the expense of the environment."

"It is clear that from Marcopper to Crazy Horse, irresponsible Canadian mining has never improved and is still wreaking havoc in our country. If Harper truly respects the Filipino people's sovereignty, he should be instrumental to the immediate pullout of these mining corporations. We ask him to ‘mine his own business' if their foreign capital will not benefit our communities and be detrimental to our ecological integrity and community welfare," asserted Bautista.

"The gross inaction of Pres. Benigno Aquino III on the growing number of environmental and human rights crimes from all mining corporations does not help in the plight of affected communities. Aquino must also be held accountable for perpetrating this culture of impunity towards opponents of destructive mining and other environmental activists," said Fr. Oliver Castor, spokesperson of TF-JED.

Ref: Clemente Bautista, Jr. - National Coordinator, Kalikasan PNE - 0922 844 9787
Fr. Oliver Castor, CsSR - Spokesperson, TF-JED - 0919 504 3536


Demand Letter sent to Canadian PM and Embassy to the Philippines

To: Mr. Stephen Joseph Harper PC MP
Prime Minister of the Government of Canada
Cc: Mr. Christopher Thornley
Ambassador of Canada to the Philippines

9 November 2012

Warm greetings!

We, the undersigned environmental groups, people's organizations and civil society formations, are alarmed and urgently calling for a dialogue to discuss issues arising from the operations of Canada-owned and listed mining companies in the Philippines.

Contrary to avowed commitment to responsible mining, consideration of public welfare, environmental as well as health & safety regulations, Canadian mining firms in the Philippines have a continuing history of non-compliance with responsible mining standards and of violation of human rights.

There are 17 Toronto Stock Venture Exchange and 6 Toronto Stock Exchange-listed mining companies in the Philippines. But the history of these mining firms' ecologically destructive and human rights violative effects go way back to 1990's. Case in point is the infamous Marcopper-Placer Dome mine spill in Marinduque province in 1996. This tragedy resulted to the toxic contamination of Boac River and the displacement of hundreds of families living in the downstream. Mining giant Placer Dome is a Canadian company which was later on acquired by another Canadian giant Barrick Gold.

Estimated total volume of tailings released by Marcopper-Placer Dome ranged from 1.6 to 3 million metric tons. The waste resulted in the Boac River becoming biologically dead, which virtually killed the affected fisheries and agricultural lands upon which hundreds of families depended on. After 20 years of environmental damage and dire health impacts there were no compensation to the victims of the mine spill and rehabilitation of the areas affected.

Thinking that this disaster, declared by a UN assessment mission as a major environmental disaster, would result in lessons learned that would spell the end of irresponsible mining practices, we are dismayed that the current Canadian-owned mining firms remain in the same mold of the old destructive projects. The following are other major cases of present and anticipated environmental and human rights crimes from Canadian companies:

In this context, we are urging an immediate review and investigation of the track records and destructive impacts of all Canadian mining companies in the Philippines, and for the immediate pullout of all firms that are currently being opposed for its present and potential destructive operations.

We fervently hope for your immediate response, especially in the context of the Philippines' lackadaisical response to the growing environmental and human rights crimes that comes from the current mining regime of foreign-owned and large-scale mining operations.

We, the Filipino people, will vigilantly await your action.

For the People and the Environment,

Kalikasan-People's Network for the Environment (Kalikasan- PNE)
Defend Patrimony! Alliance
Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan sa Pilipinas (KAMP)
Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP)
Promotion of Church People's Response (PCPR)
Advocates of Science & Technology for the People (AGHAM)
Bukluran para sa Inang Kalikasan (BUKAL)
Center for Environmental Concerns - Philippines

Canada PM urged to look into Canadian firms' mining activities in PHL

Andreo Calonzo

GMA News

11 November 2012

Visiting Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper should look into the mining activities of Canadian firms in the country to make sure that these companies are not violating the rights of locals, two progressive party-list lawmakers said Sunday.

ACT Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio particularly urged Harper to investigate activities of Canada-based Toronto Ventures Incorporated (TVI), which has been seeking to develop open-pit mining for gold extraction in Zamboanga del Sur since last year.

"We hope that Prime Minister Harper will look into reports of serious human rights violations involving TVIRD operations in Zamboanga del Sur and take steps to ensure that Canadian mining firms doing business in the Philippines operate with due respect for human rights," Tinio said in a statement Sunday.

Harper arrived in Manila last Friday for a three-day state visit. On Saturday, he inked a defense procurement deal with President Benigno Aquino III, supposedly to "enable the Philippines to acquire the equipment and expertise it needs to fulfill the country's defense and security agenda."

Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares meanwhile said that Harper should give Aquino the assurance that Canada will "in holding accountable" Canadian mining firms that are found to have committed human rights violations on Philippine soil.

"Coming from a country which prides itself with respecting human rights, and hosts a large number of Filipino immigrants, the Canadian delegation is asked to help in the battle against impunity in the country," Colmenares said in a separate statement.

TVI Resource Development, the Canadian mining firm's Philippine affiliate, is currently the subject of a House probe for alleged violations of small-scale miners' rights in Bayog town in Zamboanga del Sur.

Tinio, who filed the House resolution which triggered the probe, said officials of the mining firm have already been summoned to the legislative inquiry. - BM, GMA News

‘Ties with Canada should include rights protection'

By Leila B. Salaverria, TJ Burgonio

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12 November 2012

The forging of stronger ties between the Philippines and Canada should include a commitment to push for greater human rights protection in the country, militant lawmakers said Sunday.

Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares said the Canadian officials, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who came on a visit, should raise concerns with President Aquino over the extrajudicial killings and other rights violations taking place in the Philippines.

The Prime Minister, who arrived in the country Friday and left Sunday, pledged to bring more Canadian investments into the Philippines, following a meeting with President Aquino.

The two countries also forged a deal to help the Philippines acquire more military equipment to defend its territory.

In a statement, Colmenares said the Canadian officials should do their part to ensure that Canadian firms in the Philippines, particularly the mining corporations, respected the people's rights.

He said Canadian firm Toronto Ventures Inc. (TVI) had been accused of hiring paramilitary forces and committing human rights violations during clashes with residents near mining sites in Zamboanga del Sur.

TVI's subsidiary, TVI Resources Development Philippines (TVIRD), has been involved in disputes with small-scale miners over rights to mineral-rich areas in Zamboanga del Sur. The clash led to a shooting incident in July that cost the life of a small-scale miner.

"The Canadian government must show concern for the actions of its mining firms in the country," Colmenares said.

ACT Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio said Harper should order an investigation into TVIRD's activities.

"We hope Prime Minister Harper will look into reports of serious human rights violations involving TVIRD operations in Zamboanga del Sur and take steps to ensure that Canadian mining firms doing business in the Philippines operate with due respect for human rights," Tinio said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Malacañang on Sunday said the deal for the acquisition of military equipment forged during Harper's visit should not agitate China.

Undersecretary Abigail Valte described the memorandum of understanding between the Department of National Defense and the state-run Canadian Commercial Corp. as "a government to government transaction for the procurement of defense and military equipment."

The deputy presidential spokesperson said the deal should not raise tensions in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), which is the subject of a territorial dispute between the two countries, since its aim is for the Philippines "to attain a credible minimum defense position."

Lakbayan against ‘Mine Unsafety' highlights Philex disaster, mining-related rights violations

Press Release

14 November 2012

BAGUIO CITY - Inter-regional protest caravan led by Defend Patrimony Alliance and the Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment dubbed as Lakbayan para sa Ligtas at Makabayang Pagmimina culminated in Baguio City today as an alternative commemoration of the 58th celebration of Mine Safety Week.

Highlighting the worsening environmental disasters and human rights violations (HRVs) caused by large-scale mining, the Lakbayan was attended by contingents from Metro Manila, Ilocos, Nueva Vizcaya, Pangasinan and the Cordillera region as part of a nationally-coordinated protest mobilization that focused on the environmental crimes of Philex Mining Corporation. The action projected the recent series of tailings dam failures in Philex's Padcal Mines in Itogon, Benguet.

Coordinated actions were simultaneously held at the offices of Philex in Pasig City and Sipalay, Negros Occidental. The action at Philex's office in Sipalay comes off an international fact-finding mission that confirmed decreased agricultural and fisheries productivity and other social and environmental costs as a result of previous mine tailings spills from their mining and drilling operations.

"Philex Mining Corporation is now the poster boy of ‘Mine Unsafety' as its irresponsibility led to the spillage of at least 20.6 million metric tons of mine waste that made the affected Balog River biologically dead. Philex's recent series of dam failures is considered to be the worst mine disaster in terms of volume. We have even yet to see the real extent of the recent disaster's toxicity as independent laboratory tests are still pending," said Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.

The preliminary findings of an independent environmental investigation mission joined by Kalikasan PNE discovered that aquatic organisms can no longer be found in the highly turbid waters of Balog River and its confluence with Agno River. Thick siltation was observed in its waters, and the scent of rotten fish pervaded the area.

"More Philex-types of disasters will surely occur again in the future if the current mining regime that focuses on foreign investment and profit instead of effective environmental safety and community welfare remains. Until now the government failed to make Philex accountable to its crimes and environmental destruction brought about its mining operations," Bautista noted.

Philex Mining have mine spill accidents in both of its operations in Negros Occidental and Zamboanga del Norte Occidental in 1995 and 1997, respectively. Mine leakage were recorded in the Philex Bulawan gold mine which resulted in the massive siltation of Sipalay River in Negros and the Philex dam overflow in its Sibutad gold project which caused fish kills in Zamboanga del Norte.

"We reiterate our calls for a moratorium on all large-scale mining projects until a new policy on mining such as the People's Mining Bill is put in place, which pushes for stricter environmental compliance and social responsibility is in place," noted Bautista.

The Lakbayan also highlighted the worsening human rights situation in mining-affected communities as a clear indicator of mine unsafety in the Philippines. 18 mining-related killings have been recorded under the Aquino administration, 14 of which occurred in the minerals-rich Mindanao region. All 21 incidences of other human rights violations towards environmentalists recorded in 2012 involved mining issues, including cases of harassment, vilification, militarization and frustrated assassination.

"2012 is in fact the most dangerous year for anti-mining activists with 10 out of the 14 cases of killings under Pres. Benigno Aquino III occurring this year alone. The hapless massacre of mother Juvy Capion and her sons John and Pops is the clearest indicator of the industry becoming increasingly fascist," lamented Fr. Oliver Castor of Task Force Environment Defenders.

The Capions were the family of Daguil Capion, a B'laan tribal leader opposed to the entry of large-scale miner Xstrata-SMI in their ancestral lands in South Cotabato, suspected to have been murdered by the 27th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army that was tasked to protect mining investments in the area.

"The advent of PNoy's Executive Order 79 on mining did nothing to address these environmental crimes and human rights violations. Justice must be dispensed immediately not only for the victims of mining disasters such as Philex's dam failure, but also to all victims of mining-related human rights violations," explained Castor.

Reference: Clemente Bautista, National Coordinator - Kalikasan PNE | 09175626824

National Coordinator
Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE)
No.26 Matulungin St. Bgy. Central, Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines 1100
Tel. No. +63-2-9248756 Fax No. +63-2-9209099

Philex spill ‘biggest mining disaster' in PHL, surpassing Marcopper - DENR

By Rouchelle R. Dinglasan

GMA News

12 November 2012

(Exclusive) After months of recurring leakages, the Philex mine spill in Benguet has become the "biggest mining disaster" in the Philippines in terms of volume, but the company is seeking a clean-up option instead of paying the hefty fine of P1 billion, officials said.

Some 20 million metric tons of sediments have flowed into water channels from the Philex tailings pond in Itogon since its drainage tunnel was breached last August, according to a report from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (MGB-DENR).

This is ten times more than the volume of mine tailings that spilled out of the Marcopper mine in 1996 in Marinduque, which dumped some two million metric tons of waste into the Boac River and is still considered the worst mining disaster in terms of toxicity. Residents along the 27-kilometer Boac River lost their fishing livelihood and diseases have afflicted the community after the incident.

"In terms of volume, ito [Philex mine tailings spill] ngayon ‘yung biggest mining disaster in the Philippines," MGB chief Leo Jasareno told GMA News Online in an exclusive interview last Friday.

Philex spokesperson Atty. Eduardo Aratas affirmed the statement: "Because of the volume [of the leak], it is really the biggest. But on the toxicity, it is not."

Mining officials are still studying the toxicity levels of the wastes from the gold and copper mine that were deposited in nearby waterways after heavy monsoon rains led to a major breach in its drainage tunnel last August 1. About five "minor" recurrences have been reported since then, Jasareno said.

This week, the bureau is set to conduct a socio-environmental impact assessment of the tailings pond leak to determine the extent of the damage.

The DENR has slapped a hefty P1-billion fine, almost as much as the mining firm's taxes last year, on one of the country's largest producers of gold and copper.

But Philex is reluctant to pay up, arguing that, "forces of nature cannot be prevented 100 percent."

Aratas asserted, "Ang sinasabi ng management, sige if you fine us tapos na dapat [‘yung responsibility]. Or, if you order us to clean up, then gagawin namin ‘yun."

The MGB chief is standing pat on the penalty. "Ang contention kasi ng Philex pagka-force majeure hindi sila dapat magbayad ng P1 billion. [Pero] dun sa provision ng Mining Act na kung saan namin hinugot yung parusa... wala namang nakalagay na hindi ka magbabayad kung force majeure," Jasareno explained.

Balog Creek ‘biologically dead'

The penalty for violating other environmental laws - such as the Clean Water Act - will be imposed separately on Philex, Jasareno said. This will cost about P50,000 per day, in addition to a clean-up plan for the rehabilitation of damaged waterways.

The company has said that torrential monsoon rains caused a breach in its Tailings Pond 3 -- the largest in the country at 80 hectares -- which can hold up to 160 million metric tons of wastewater and sediments from the mining operations.

The leakage in what is currently the only operating tailings pond of Philex spilled waste into nearby water channels, particularly Balog Creek, which flows into the Agno River.

Last October, an environmental investigative mission declared Balog Creek "biologically dead" after it suffered the worst of the discharge, which was deposited along the 2.5-kilometer water channel.

The creek had turned gray, with the riverbed full of mud and the water brownish in color. There were no signs of frogs, dragonflies, aquatic plants or moss. The water was too murky to spot any fish.

According to the Philex spokesperson, the company is aware that the mining leak weighs heavily on the public's perception of mining operations in the country.

"Ang face ng mining will be at stake [dito]. Ayaw din namin na i-fail," said Aratas. "Hindi lang Philex kasi ito. We are carrying the burden of proving that mining is really responsible."

Trust fund for communities

Jasareno said the fines would be placed in a trust fund that will be used to pay for the claims of affected residents or communities.

The MGB director added that the 57-year-old company would not be allowed to continue its operations "unless they are able to undertake the necessary remediation measures provided by law."

"Dapat i-remedy nila, otherwise di [sila] bibigyan ng permit," he pointed out.

According to Aratas, the company managed to plug the leak last September, but its operations remain suspended pending the clean-up of the mining spill.

In early October, President Aquino referred to the mining disaster, without naming Philex directly, when he told the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines that reforms were needed in the mining law:

"In terms of revenues, our position is government gets something like less than 10 percent of what they (mining companies) make. But we have a hundred percent if there is a problem that crops up, meaning, for instance, one of the oldest firms - of mining firms - in the country suffered multiple failures of their tailings pond, and that redounds to quite a significant impact on the environment.

"We still stick with our position that there has to be a reformulation of the governing law with regards to the mining industry. And we would rather not continue the situation or also the risks until the remedies or the corrections in the mining laws will be corrected." - YA/HS, GMA News

5 mine firms bond for spill cleanup

Philippine Daily Inquirer

14 November 2012

BAGUIO CITY-An official of the Philippine Mine Safety and Environment Association (PMSEA) said engineers and geologists from at least five mining companies in the country will help in the rehabilitation of the waterways contaminated by wastes that leaked from the tailings pond of Philex Mining Corp. in Benguet in August.

Louie Sarmiento, PMSEA president, said the mining industry was sad about the situation of Philex, a major gold and copper producer, because the company is considered a model for responsible mining in the Philippines.

In September, Department of Environment and Natural Resources officials said Philex could face about P1 billion in fines for the spills in its Padcal facility in Itogon town. Philex disputed the figure.

Sarmiento said no one wanted the accident to happen.

"As an organization, we are saddened because Philex is one of the most responsible mining companies in the country, and we never wanted that kind of accident to happen. It's a good thing that we have a committee now that will help address this problem and which offered the technical assistance to them," Sarmiento said in a press forum on Tuesday to announce the holding of the annual mine safety conference here this week.

Sarmiento said officials of some mining companies were bothered by the Philex incident and suggested that the conference not be held in Baguio.

"A month before the conference, many were asking why we had to hold the conference in Baguio, and we said we do not want to run away from the problem. We are here to reaffirm our commitment," Sarmiento said.

He said experts from several mining companies have volunteered their services to help in the cleanup of Balog Creek in Itogon, where the wastes were discharged, and in the design and other technical aspects of the waste disposal system of Philex.

Balog Creek is a tributary of Agno River, which is the source of water of San Roque Dam in San Manuel, Pangasinan.

Sarmiento commended Philex for admitting responsibility for the leak and for exerting efforts to plug the leak in its Tailings Pond No. 3. The firm had also committed to clean up and rehabilitate the waterways where the tailings were discharged.

But on Wednesday, members of militant groups staged a protest rally to condemn Philex and other mining companies for their allegedly unsafe practices that put the environment and communities in danger.

The protesters went to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau office here to submit the initial results of their fact-finding investigation on the impact of the Philex tailings pond leak on the outlying communities and waterways in Itogon.

"As the government and mining companies brag about mine safety during their mining conference this week, we reiterate our position against destructive mining and its accompanying militarization and human rights violations," said Santos Mero, deputy secretary general of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance. Desiree Caluza, Inquirer Northern Luzon

Friends of the Earth International (FOEI), in solidarity with all its member countries and community partners, call on the Philippine government to take action against the extrajudicial killings of environmental activists and indigenous peoples in the Philippines

Friends of the Earth International (FOEI) Statement

10 November 2012

Friends of the Earth International (FOEI), in solidarity with all its member countries and community partners, call on the Philippine government to take action against the extrajudicial killings of environmental activists and indigenous peoples in the Philippines. We mourn the loss of the defenders of the Earth and condemn the atrocities inflicted on communities at the forefront of defending their right to land and the integrity of a healthy ecosystem.

In the month of October alone, as the Philippine government celebrates the 15th year anniversary of the country's Indigenous Peoples Rights Act, a law meant to guarantee and safeguard indigenous peoples' right to land and environmentally sustainable environment, indigenous peoples and environmentalist supporters have fallen victims to extreme violence. On October 3, Gilbert Paborada, was killed by unidentified gunmen. Gilbert was the chairperson of Pangalasag (Indigenous Shield), a community-based indigenous organization that is resisting the oil palm plantation expansion of A. Brown in the town of Opol, Misamis Oriental. Gilbert was very vocal against the grabbing of their lands, calling attention to the company-sanctioned violations of their civil and political rights. In October 18, the B'laan indigenous community of South Cotabato suffered a tragedy. Pop Capion, aged 13, and John Capion, aged 8, along with their mother, Juvy, were killed in an alleged military raid. John and Pop's parents have long stood against the presence of the Swiss mining company SMI-Xtrata in their community. Their father's uncle, Gorelmin Malid, along with another community member, who strongly opposed the presence of the Australian mining corporation Western Mining Corporation (WMC) were murdered in 2002. Their father, Daguil, is being hunted down accused of being a bandit for fighting against what they consider as encroachment of mining in their ancestral land. Their ancestral land straddles on mountains with rich biodiversity and is one of the more critical geological landscapes in the Philippines. The mining site is traversed by numerous fault lines. In Oct. 29, a group of unidentified assailants shot at Dr. Isidro Olan. Dr. Olan leads a multi-sectoral group that is calling for the stop of the large-scale mining operations of Mark Ventures, the repeal of the country's mining law, and the immediate stop of military operations in environmentally disputed areas. Dr. Olan survived the attack but is now under critical condition at the hospital. None of the deaths have seen justice.

During the term of President Benigno Aquino III, at least 25 indigenous peoples and environmentalists have been killed. Many others have been arrested and harassed with trumped-up criminal charges; These for asserting the cause of the land, the integrity of ways of life of peoples, and for opposing destructive projects such as large-scale mining, logging, energy projects, oil palm plantations and other commercial interests. While the deaths and harassments have yet to see justice, the government maintains its directive of allowing mining militias and support of paramilitary groups to protect these projects, posing a threat to communities. Communities all over the country are indignant over the escalating threat to their land and lives. They are indignant over the deaths of their leaders and supporters who have fought for their cause.

- Friends of the Earth International (FOEI) is an international network of environmental organizations in 76 countries.

For love of environment, advocates pay dearly

Impunity, the activists say, because perpetrators remain scot-free, if not, unpunished.

By Marilou Aguirre-Tuburan

Davao Today

16 November 2012

DAVAO CITY, Philippines - For Stella Matutina, a nun leading Mindanao's environmentalists, stopping giant mining firms have become deadlier, a price she herself, paid dearly.

Speaking during a public hearing initiated by Philippine legislators last week this city, Matutina rattled off glaring statistics to present what she termed as "the most salient and gravest trends" in human rights abuses under the Aquino government.

The numbers of slain victims were punishing: 32 leaders killed in two years, 24 of them indigenous peoples who opposed land grabbing in their ancestral domains.

The numbers of victims sued by courts were deplorable: 159 individuals who face pending warrants of arrests, subpoenas, and other forms of "legal harassment and intimidation."

The numbers of displaced residents were glaring: about 1,017 families with 5,275 individuals, particularly in the regions of Caraga, Northern and Southern Mindanao, dislocated due to military encampments and operations.

In all these, Matuina, convenor of the coalition, Panalipdan (English translation: Defend) Mindanao, lamented that "the state of impunity continues to this day."

The "state of impunity" was coined by rights activists following the carnage notoriously known as Ampatuan massacre involving the murder of 58 individuals, 34 of them media practitioners in Maguindanao province three years ago.

Impunity, the activists say, because perpetrators remain scot-free, if not, unpunished.

Matutina added that extrajudicial killings, particularly of indigenous leaders and environment advocates in Mindanao, escalated "at a faster pace, compared to the same period under (former President Gloria) Arroyo."

Opposing large-scale mining is, indeed, dangerous for advocates, as they asked for an investigation on the "practices, business ethics, human rights and environmental records of mining companies and other extractive industries" like the Xstrata-SMI in Tampakan, South Cotabato, the TVI Resources in Zamboanga, the Taganito Mining in Surigao, the Russel mining in Compostela Valley and the A. Brown in Misamis Oriental.

A human rights victim herself, Matutina said her experience from the hands of the military was "of no consequence compared to the fate that befell other victims of human rights violations across Mindanao."

Three years ago, Matutina, dead-tired from a day of environment seminar with residents, was rudely woken from sleep and detained for several hours by soldiers belonging to the Philippine Army's 67th Infantry Battalion in a far-flung village in Cateel town, Davao Oriental. Soldiers tagged her as a New People's Army rebel, an accusation which Matutina brushed off as part of her "determined advocacy" in protecting communities and the environment.

Total disregard

The escalating violence in Mindanao has raised questions as to how serious is the Philippine military in respecting human rights and in reforming the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

But Major Jake Obligado, chief of the 10th Infantry Division's Civil-Military Operations Battalion, in a text message to said, "We are very serious in performing our mandate professionally, much so with our increased advocacy in the utmost respect for human rights."

He added, "if there are any complaints against our troops, we are always open for investigation with the assurance that we will fully cooperate."

"(The) trend shames this (Aquino) government for its total disregard of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders," Matutina said, adding that the "malicious charges" filed against activists are a "clear attempt to silence their advocacies through judicial intimidation, planting of evidence for frame ups, or through eventually imprisoning them on false and fabricated cases."

Panalipdan has urged Congress, among others, to "take to task" the chain of command of the AFP and the Philippine National Police (PNP), including President Aquino "under the principle of command responsibility" to be accountable for the killings.

But Professor Luz Ilagan, Gabriela Women's Party Representative and member of the House of Representatives' Human Rights Committee said, the committee will "not" put President Aquino to task, only the AFP and PNP. She pointed out, "there is a parliamentary courtesy between the two parts (executive and legislative) of the government."

Panalipdan also asked for the "review and rescinding" of the counter-insurgency plan of the Aquino government, the Oplan Bayanihan, which it said, "provided the policy and operational framework" that has allowed the continuation of extrajudicial killings and other abuses.

Ilagan said they will now "consolidate testimonies of the accuser and the accused" before a meeting in Congress for a report "to be approved or disapproved by the whole committee."

She said, there are 35 members who will review the report which will be passed early next year. She added though that "it's up to the chair of the committee to formulate the wording based on the results of the hearing."

Schools, too

Schools in rural areas were also subjects of attack, according to Panalipdan.

Matutina cited the case of a school in Esperanza, Agusan del Sur where the town mayor Nida Manpatilan told community leaders and the teacher that the community "should allow mining if it wants development."

Said schools are run by non-government organizations and Lumad support groups "in areas where government's basic education services cannot reach or are underserved."

Panalipdan has urged the Department of Education "to ensure that the rights and survival of alternative community learning schools are respected and protected from militarization, vilification, and other forms of intimidation and attacks." (Marilou Aguirre-Tuburan/


The Tampakan project: battle over Southeast Asia's largest copper-gold reserve

By Bong S. Sarmiento


11 November 2012

1st of two parts

TAMPAKAN, South Cotabato (MindaNews/11 Nov) - How huge is the proposed open pit mine that will gouge out a mountain here to extract 17.9 million ounces of gold deposits and 15 million metric tons of copper?

Imagine at least 17,000 basketball courts laid out beside each other being swallowed with ease by that pit and you will have a general idea of its size. As for its depth of 800 meters, imagine a hole as deep as a 160-storey building in a country whose tallest building is all of 73 floors.

As the largest known undeveloped copper and gold minefield in Southeast Asia, the project of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI) promises tantalizing economic returns with global prices of the precious metals at an all-time high. But it also paints a terrifying picture of the area's environmental future and its implications for the people of the mountains and those who live in the lowlands.

The stakes are extremely high, so high that both those who oppose mining and those who are for it have already drawn the line on the sand...with blood. The fact that the mineral deposits lie buried underneath ancestral lands of the B'laan tribe further complicates the already volatile situation.

A number of male tribal members have begun arming themselves with improvised shotguns and high-powered rifles like M16s and M1 Garands. They are ready and willing to use these, they say, should mining operations commence.

The B'laans are essentially a peace-loving people although they have the hearts of warriors whose instincts have, to a great extent, been honed by hunting in the forest, a territory they know like the palm of their hands. While there have been conflicts within the tribe, in some instances ending in killings, they try to fix them using kasfala-their tribal justice system-to prevent the escalation of violence.

But when pushed against the wall, they fight back. And some of them are doing that now against SMI.

Xstrata Copper, the world's fourth largest copper producer, controls SMI, with Australian firm Indophil Resources NL as the junior partner. Xstrata Copper is a subsidiary of Switzerland-based Xstrata Plc., a global diversified mining company.

After assuming in 2001 rights over the Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) of the Western Mining Corp., the Australian mining company that originally discovered the deposits in the early 1990s, SMI launched in 2003 the Tampakan project, which also straddles the towns of Kiblawan in Davao del Sur and Columbio in Sultan Kudarat.

The core of the copper and gold deposits lies in Tampakan, a second class municipality without a single bank and lacking in the usual modern economic infrastructures. Lately, however, its streets are littered with the latest model of four-wheel drive pick-up trucks purchased by several residents, in the hope of renting these out to SMI.

The Tampakan project has not gone into production because its application for an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) was rejected early this year by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), on the grounds that it violates the open-pit ban imposed by the South Cotabato government.

From the time SMI started its Tampakan project, it has been hounded with protests mounted by environment, human rights and church groups opposing it.

The opposition fears that once it goes on commercial stream - 2018 is the revised target from the original 2016 - the environment may suffer irreversibly.

Environmental impacts

SMI plans to excavate the massive deposits by digging a hole, or open-pit in the language of the mining industry, in an area measuring 2.5 kilometers wide and 3 km long down to a depth of 800 meters, or an area equivalent to the size of 17,000 basketball courts and as deep as a 160-storey building .

The Philippines' tallest building as of 2012 is the 73-floor Gramercy Residences at Century City in Makati City while Mindanao's tallest for now is the 20-floor Marco Polo Hotel in Davao City.

The depth of the Tampakan pit will be eight times the height of Davao's Marco Polo.

The Tampakan prect site, which includes the open-pit area and other support infrastructure like the waste rock storage facility, tailings pond, and fresh water dam, among others, will sit on some 10,000 hectares (ha) of land altogether.

According to the company's Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), out of the total project site, 40 percent or 3,750 hectares are rainforest vegetation.

While there is no declared watershed in the Tampakan project site (mining is banned in watersheds), the remaining rainforests are believed to be the source of water for rivers that feed agricultural farms and ponds downstream.

In fact, the reason why then South Cotabato Governor Daisy P. Avance-Fuentes signed into law on June, 29, 2010 the Environment Code that banned open-pit mining in the province was because of the possible drying up of agricultural areas in the lowlands if the resource-rich area is mined.

Fuentes, the representative of South Cotabato's 2nd district in Congress from 1992 to 2001, signed the law a day before stepping down as governor. She is now back in her former post as Representative.

In her explanatory note during the announcement of her approval of the Environment Code in 2010, Fuentes cited a study by a British group titled "Philippines: Mining or Food?" which warns about the drying up of lowland rivers if the Tampakan project would proceed.

"This is a landmark legislation. It marks the province's maturing autonomy by owning up to the responsibility as environment steward," she said.

Fuentes acknowledged pressures for her to veto the open-pit ban, the strong lobbying even shifting to Malacanang, the seat of the national government.

She explained to reporters that vetoing the ban on open pit mining would not only render the whole Environment Code inoperative but will expose communities and resources to danger which will, with certainty, affect their health, security and economic sustainability.

The open-pit ban is one of the provisions, albeit the most controversial, of the provincial Environment Code.

"After mining is completed, the open-pit can't be restored to its original state," SMI said in its open-pit mining public briefer.

Sixty per cent of the project site has been disturbed by logging, agriculture and kaingin (slash and burn farming). The rest, however, supports a high diversity of flora and fauna, including over 1,000 flora species and around 280 fauna species, the company's EIA Overview Document showed.

Of this, at least 50 flora species and 33 fauna species are either on the list of threatened species in the Philippines and international bodies.

Generally speaking, Sagittarius Mines, in its EIA Overview Document, plans to clear approximately 1,300 hectares of remnant rainforest (35% of the 3,750 hectares of rainforest on the site) that supports a high diversity of flora and fauna species, including threatened species. This area is equivalent to at least 30 times the size of SM Mall of Asia in Metro Manila.

The final mine area is approximately 10,000 hectares and it potentially includes 355 hectares of old growth forest, SMI said in response to an e-mail query. The DENR has yet to validate this old growth forest area. But under the law, forest of this kind shall not be disturbed.

Remnant rainforest and old growth forests are two different things. The former refers to those leftover trees that were untouched by logging activities decades ago that are now fully grown. Old growth forest, in lay language, means virgin forest.

Earthquake fault lines

The Tampakan project has also been described by some experts as potentially one of the most dangerous mines in the world because of its geologic location, which is about 12 kilometers from Mt. Matutum, a dormant volcano. Matutum is South Cotabato's landmark peak at 2,286 meters and its tip towers over the Tampakan minefield. It was declared a protected landscape in March 1995 through Presidential Proclamation 552 issued by then President Fidel V. Ramos.

Aside from the open-pit, which the environment experts warn will indelibly scar the mountains of Tampakan, other support facilities will be constructed in the area like the waste rock storage facility (WRSF), concentrator (processing facility), tailings storage facility (TSF), and fresh water dam (FWD).

The proposed open pit site will straddle the villages of Danlag, Pula Bato and Tablu in the town of Tampakan, province of South Cotabato. To the northeast and adjacent to the open pit site will be the proposed sites of the WRSF, with the concentrator (processing facility), TSF and FWD 13 kilometers east of the open pit in the town of Kiblawan in the province of Davao del Sur.

"These facilities pose an imminent danger to the environment and lives of the people [in downstream areas] in case of an accident (dam and other containment failure that result into floods carrying poisonous substances to downstream areas) because the project area lies in an unstable geography," Emmanuel Diaz, a geologist working at the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity, said.

The mines development site lies at an estimated 1,300 meters above sea level and atop the two big rivers-Taplan River and Mal River-that feed lowland agricultural farms in South Cotabato and Davao del Sur, respectively. The proposed open pit will be located in the Taplan River catchment while the remainder of the proposed site infrastructures will be situated in the Mal River catchment.

Diaz particularly expressed concern on the mining project's impact on biodiversity-all living forms to include plants and trees and animals (and even humans). He stressed there could be plants and trees and animal species endemic only in the Tampakan mining project area that will not only be disturbed but may become extinct as the mining phases (exploration, exploitation, and production) progress.

In a 10-page paper, Dr. Robert Goodland and Clive Montgomery Wicks described the Tampakan project as a "risk forever."

"The chances of the 2.1 km long and 280 meters high tailings dam and the 0.8 km long and the 150 meters high fresh water dam surviving for any length of time is doubtful... The chances of water passing through the toxic waste rock storage and other toxic sites and then into the environment is very high, particularly if damaged by the fault underneath," they said after reviewing the Tampakan project's environmental impact statement.

In 2009, Goodland and Wicks wrote the book entitled Philippines Mining or Food?

But John Arnaldo, SMI spokesperson, allayed fears about the disastrous characteristics of the Tampakan project that many believe could exact a terrible toll on the environment and on human lives.

"We are confident that our facilities would withstand the most extreme events. Just as high-rise buildings exist in earthquake prone areas around the world and resist strong earthquakes, today it is absolutely feasible to build tailings dams to withstand such events," he said.

Arnaldo said that in the "unlikely" event of any environmental damage resulting from the mining operations, SMI will compensate those affected and rectify any damage. He did not discuss the compensation package though.

He also noted that the company has obtained a certification from the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology that states that the nearest active earthquake fault is some 10 kilometers from the project area, indicating that the proposed final mine area "is not within a high risk zone."

"SMI has mitigated the risk of seismic activity in the project area as part of our planning for the project, including designing project components to withstand major earthquakes," Arnaldo said.

But Page 42 of the company's Environmental and Social Impact Assessment states: "Based on Table 5.1, the TSF (tailings storage facility) has been given an extreme consequence classification, during operation and closure, due to the high potential for loss of life and high environmental damage if failure occurs. This classification also applies to waste rock co-disposed with tailings in the TSF."

It quickly explained, however, that the selection of extreme classification means "that the structure is designed to the highest level of protection consistent with international dam engineering practice."

Arnaldo said "dams and buildings are constructed safely world-wide in a variety of environments and the analysis undertaken by our geologists and engineers is consistent with leading practice, that is to assess the risk and design the structures accordingly."

"With rigorous design standards and the proposed construction supervision and monitoring we are confident that our dams and waste rock facilities can be constructed to minimize the risk of failure and impact to the community/environment," he said.

Indophil, the junior foreign partner at SMI, placed the initial life of the mine at 17 years.

Two decades in the pipeline

The Tampakan project has been in the pipeline for 20 years, with the discovery of the mineral deposits in 1992. Just recently, SMI announced the moving of the target year for commercial operation from 2016 to 2018. Construction of the mining support facilities would have started this year had it not been for the open-pit ban which the DENR invoked to deny the firm's ECC.

The mines development site straddles five tribal councils in five barangays under three towns (Tampakan in South Cotabato, Kiblawan in Davao del Sur and Columbio in Sultan Kudarat), all of which have expressed support to SMI under principal agreements that provide financial assistance to them even if the firm has yet to extract the deposits.

The Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) for the Tampakan project was granted to Western Mining Corp. (WMC) in 1995 and was transferred to Sagittarius Mines in 2001, then controlled by Australian firm Indophil Resources NL.

Xstrata Copper exercised its option to acquire 62.5 percent of the 40 percent controlling equity held by Indophil in 2007, making the Swiss miner the majority holder of the controlling equity at the Tampakan project. The 60 percent non-controlling equity continues to be held by the locals collectively known as the Tampakan Group of Companies.

From the time the FTAA was granted to WMC up until the entry of Xstrata Copper in Sagittarius Mines-or a total period of 17 years as of this writing -an annual financial assistance has been extended to the host tribal councils, barangays and towns, as contained in separate principal agreements.

When Xstrata Copper assumed management control at SMI, company expenditures already reached a staggering P18 billion (U$416 million) from 2007 to end of 2011 alone for the Tampakan project. Indophil had spent Au$27 million for the exploration activities prior to the entry of Xstrata Copper.

Of the P18 billion, P367 million (U$8.2 million) went to various corporate social involvement programs including community fund assistance to the host barangays and tribal communities, said Arnaldo, the company's spokesperson.

Curiously though, the tribal communities remain mired in poverty.


Last of two parts

TAMPAKAN, South Cotabato (MindaNews/12 Nov) - Potentially the largest foreign direct investment in the Philippines, the $5.9 billion Tampakan mining project faces two major challenges: the ban on open pit mining imposed by the South Cotabato provincial government and the increasing activism of environment groups and local Catholic clergy which had made clear their anti-mining stance.

Underneath the surface, however, hostility toward the project is simmering among tribespeople who fear that the mines development will lead to their displacement and the destruction of their way of life. Some have taken up arms to protect what they insist is their ancestral domain.

Sadly, several lives have been lost, among them Gurilmin Malid and Pensing Dialang, who were both killed in 2002 allegedly because of their anti-mining stance. This localized yet deadly war has also recently led to the killing of Juvy Capion and her two sons on October 18, following a clash allegedly between Philippine soldiers and tribesmen led by her husband, Daguel Capion. Capion has been leading the opposition to the mining project and had openly declared war on Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI) for allegedly disrespecting the rights of the tribe. Capion also expressed concerns about the negative impact of the mining project on the environment.

Reportedly injured, Capion managed to escape and has remained in hiding but his wife, Juvy, and her sons Jordan, 13, and John Mark, 8 were killed. The couple's four-year old daughter Angeline, fondly called Vicky, was unhurt. The girl's future remains uncertain given the rising tensions within the tribal community of Bong Mal, where the killing happened.

Bong Mal is the traditional B'laan territory straddling Barangay Danlag, Tampakan in South Cotabato and Barangay Kimlawis, Kiblawan in Davao del Sur. At the heart of the mines development site, it serves as a crucial artery for the mining company to move around the mountains.

In Bong Mal, the Capions lay claims to vast tracts of land, part of which is a farming area where the mother and her two sons were killed by bullets supposedly coming from the soldiers. Pieces of brains and blood splattered the walls and the floor of the hut where they died. Aside from the four-year old daughter, another young relative survived the incident.

Forced to fight

From late 2009 until March 2011, Capion expressed his opposition to the Tampakan project through peaceful means, either by joining anti-mining activities in the lowlands or speaking before his fellow tribesmen about the impact of the mining project on their community.

Capion was highly regarded even by SMI. Before he spoke his mind against the company, he was an SMI employee, serving as community relations officer. He was influential among the tribal members even as SMI did not recognize him as the tribal chieftain of Bong Mal.

For SMI, Bong Mal's chieftain is Neraldo "Dot" Capion, his relative who supports the mining firm. His ascent to the post came not by bloodline, which is the customary tradition of the B'laans, but through a vote resembling that of a barangay election.

"If SMI or its supporters have been telling the outside world that everything is smooth in the mines development site, that's not true," Daguel Capion said on October 1 in the same hut where his wife and two young children were felled by bullets 17 days later.

With an armalite and garand rifles beside him, he told MindaNews that their armed struggle will continue unless the company abandons its mining project.

"We would be displaced to places where living would have to be dictated by money," said Capion, his armed followers lingering nearby.

Should mining operations proceed, some 4,000 people will be displaced from the mines development site, most of them B'laan tribal members, and transferred to relocation sites which many are rejecting since staying there would mean exposure to and living in a world alien to their way of life, Lawin Macundon, a B'laan tribal elder, said through an interpreter.

Capion pointed out: "Here we can go hunting for wild deer and pigs, and frogs as well, for our food."

Capion earlier said he left SMI after realizing that the stake of the tribal people and the environment is far greater than what the mining firm is offering them, such as jobs. The local Catholic Church, while supporting his activism, would later disapprove of his resorting to violence. Before he took up arms, Capion was a regular presence in anti-mining activities spearheaded by religious groups.

To the local military, he was simply an extortionist who took up guns after he failed to get what he wanted from the company.

Capion began opposing the Tampakan project about three years ago because, according to him, the mining company had become aggressive and was allegedly no longer seeking the tribal people's consent in opening up access roads for drilling activities, resulting in the desecration of their ancestors' burial grounds.

He said he felt that their rights were being trampled upon by the mining company, which later would deny the allegation and would promise to look into the complaint.

In 2011, Capion took up arms and led a band that ambushed and killed three workers of a construction company hired by SMI for a road project. He admitted the ambush and this is the reason why he is being hunted by the military.

This transition from peaceful protest to violent activism would change the landscape of Bong Mal from a quiet farming community to a place of death and violence. Last June, a security consultant of SMI and a police escort were killed in the mining tenement. The incident happened just three days after a security guard was shot to death last June 17 also in the same village.

In a press conference on November 5 in General Santos City, the military also accused Capion of perpetrating the New Year's Day 2008 burning of the base camp of SMI in Barangay Tablu in Tampakan town; disarming of nine SMI security guards also in Tablu on December 15, 2011; and the killing of the security guard last June 17. The New People's Army (NPA), however, admitted responsibility for the 2008 raid and burning of the base camp.

Capion and his band of armed B'laan tribesmen did not leave Bong Mal even as they were the subject of a military manhunt. According to Capion, staying around Bong Mal would prove that he and his followers "have not joined or have linked up with the NPA."

As a guerilla tactic, Capion, who was joined by his brothers Batas and Kitari, spread themselves in the area in small groups. Although their number could not be ascertained, it is said that a sack of rice would not suffice for a week. The military, during the November 5 press conference, stressed that Capion, "the leader of an armed bandit, has more or less five followers."

Within the mines development site, the Philippine Army has set up several detachments to maintain peace and order and as buffer to the NPA rebels.

Tribal division

The mining project has divided the B'laan tribe.

Those who support the mining venture points to the economic and social contribution the project will bring or has brought.

"Our children are going to school because of the mining company," Dalina Samling, tribal chieftain of Danlag, said, referring to the thousands of scholars SMI has sponsored in the elementary, secondary and college levels.

For supporting SMI, the tribal councils each receive an annual financial assistance of P2.7 million from the company as stated in their respective principal agreements.

Constancio Paye Jr., Mines and Geosciences Bureau director for Region 12, said the principal agreements allowed SMI to conduct exploration activities even without the Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of the B'laan tribe because when the Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) was granted, there was no Indigenous Peoples Rights Act yet. Enacted in 1997, the IPRA Law mandates the companies to secure the FPIC of indigenous peoples for mining projects within ancestral domains.

The mines development site straddles two Certificate of Ancestral Domain Titles (CADTs) and a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Claim (CADC) in the towns of Tampakan in South Cotabato, Columbio in Sultan Kudarat and Kiblawan in Davao del Sur.

Woy Lim P. Wong, National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) director for Region 12, recognizes the problems besetting the mines development site of SMI involving tribal communities.

While he said his office has been involved in community consultations within the SMI tenement, he appeared "hands off" in the tribal division confronting Bong Mal, especially on the war waged by Capion against the mining company.

"In due time, we will establish an indigenous political structure in the area," Wong said, believing this could help solve the tribal divide.

But getting the support of the tribe members who are against the mining firm is another story since they have developed distrust of the NCIP, for seemingly siding with SMI. While it is true the NCIP has been involved in consultations, Capion insisted they were done only through the tribal council and did not involve the general tribal community stakeholders.

"In fact, the NCIP is partly to blame for the violence at the mines development site for its failure to conduct a genuine consultation with the affected tribal community stakeholders," he said in a subsequent telephone interview.

For now, the company may be relieved of its security nightmare after Capion, in this phone interview last October 25, gave an assurance that he would not retaliate or avenge the death of his wife and the children. He, however, asked that justice be given the fatalities by prosecuting the soldiers involved in the operation through court proceedings. He also assured that his brothers- Kitari and Batas-"won't do anything violent" as they follow Capion's "wisdom." Capion, however, said he could not assure "what the other groups" may do hereafter.

Still the same poor tribal communities

Did the annual financial assistance ensured by the principal agreements improve the lives of communities or the tribal communities in Bong Mal?

A tour of the area would show one tangible result: a public elementary school. Elsewhere, residents say there were no visible developments from SMI's annual financial assistance like common function halls, health centers and sports facilities that were built using concrete or solid materials.

To be sure, roads have been improved to allow residents to transport their agricultural crops to the lowlands, but this has been maintained by the company because they need to move around the mountains especially at the height of its exploration activities. Also, there are cellular phone communication signals in the mines development site due to SMI.

On top of the yearly financial assistance to the tribal councils, SMI also extends cash aid to the host barangays and municipal governments.

In a chance interview in September 2012 in Bong Mal, Alfonso Malayon, a member of the Barangay Danlag village council, said communities in Bong Mal have remained poor despite the company's cash assistance.

"Not much has improved here in the communities since the entry of the mining company," he said.

SMI has spent P367 million for various corporate social involvement programs including community fund assistance to the host barangays and tribal communities in the past four years alone. The company did not provide the total or estimated amount of financial assistance years before 2007, when Australian firm Indophil Resources NL was at the helm.

Indophil poured Au$27 million when the project was resurrected in 2003 for exploration activities, until Xstrata Copper took over in 2007, and part of that amount went to the annual financial assistance to the tribal councils and host villages and municipalities.

Each of the five tribal councils receives P2.7 million annual financial assistance from SMI since Xstrata Copper entered the picture in 2007. Before this, each was getting reportedly P1.5 million annual cash aid. Counting the last 10 years, the amount extended to the five tribal councils have reached P105 million.

Days before Capion's wife Juvy and her children died, she told MindaNews many of them have not benefited from the company's financial aid to the tribal council although they have tried to ask for help.

"We requested for livelihood assistance but it never came, maybe because we are against the mining venture. But those who support mining, they have been given," she said.

SMI explained that the financial assistance to the tribal councils is administered by a tribal foundation, which approves requests for livelihood projects. Each tribal council is represented in the foundation's board.

In downtown Tampakan, the economy does not seem to have perked up as there are no banks and modern buildings as yet. The only semblance of improvement in a town that hosts what is supposed to be massive mineral wealth, are the new municipal hall and a portion of the public market.

Vice Mayor Relly Leysa denies reports the town hall was constructed with SMI funding. He said it was constructed from local government funds and a loan.

But Leysa acknowledged that SMI's annual cash assistance helped build portions of the town's gymnasium and the new public market building, and for the scholarship of elementary and high school students.

Better future

Based on its projected economic data once the firm goes on commercial stream, the Tampakan project will shape "a better future for 
the people of southern and southwestern Mindanao."

"If developed, the Tampakan project would generate significant economic benefits that would stimulate the local, regional and national economies," SMI stated in its community benefits fact sheet.

Here are SMI's figures:

The company initially targets to begin commercial production in 2016, but because of setbacks, moved it to 2018. The initial life of the mine was placed at 17 years.

Clash of national vs. local laws

The Philippines' Mining Act of 1995 or Republic Act 9742 does not prohibit open-pit mining method, but the DENR cited the prohibition on open-pit mining imposed by South Cotabato as the reason for rejecting the SMI's ECC application.

The issuance of the new mining policy by President Aquino in June 2012 did not explicitly lift the open-pit ban of South Cotabato, although Executive Order (EO) 79 states the need in Section 12 for the "Consistency of Local Ordinances with the Constitution and National Laws/ LGU Cooperation."

"LGUs shall confine themselves only to the imposition of reasonable limitations on mining activities conducted within their respective territorial jurisdictions that are consistent with national laws and regulations," it said.

The South Cotabato provincial government, headed by Gov. Arthur Pingoy, Jr., has defied EO 79, stressing that LGUs have the right to protect their environmental territory under the Local Government Code of 1991.

"We will impose the environment code that bans open pit mining unless revoked by a court. We are not banning mining but only the method," was Pingoy's curt reply.

Curiously, no case has been filed in any court, not even by SMI, to challenge the open-pit ban of South Cotabato two years since its adoption.

What the company did was to elevate its appeal for the rejection of its ECC to the Office of the President. President Aquino, however, gave a hint that he would wait for Congress to craft a new law on mining revenue before acting on the appeal of SMI.

Tough balancing act

The Tampakan project has become so complicated it requires a tough balancing act to weigh its potential economic windfall on the one hand and, on the other, its adverse impact on the environment and the people's lives.

Security and human rights issues have to be addressed as well given the killings and other acts of violence that hound the mine project, and how the entry of a project that touted to bring development to the area has instead triggered schisms among the indigenous peoples.

Is there a way out of the impasse?

South Cotabato Vice Governor Elmo Tolosa says there is and that is for SMI to proceed with "little or no opposition" by using tunneling, instead of the open pit mining method. The company, however, maintains the only viable option is open-pit mining.

Lobbying by both pro- and anti-mining groups has become louder more than ever and is expected to intensify in the run-up to the May 2013 election of a new set of provincial officials.

While SMI remains hopeful it could get the necessary clearances or support candidates who would lift the ban so the Tampakan project could proceed, the opposition is as avid to stop the proposed open-pit mining project on concerns over the environment and human safety.

The longer it takes for this logjam to be untangled, the more lives may be laid on the line.

(This article of Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews was produced under the Environmental Investigative Reporting Fellowship project of the International Women's Media Foundation)

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