MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Protesters to SMI: "go away;" Supporters say "thanks"

Published by MAC on 2004-10-18

Protesters to SMI: "go away;" Supporters say "thanks"

Allen V. Estabillo, Mindanews

18 October 2004

Tampakan, South Cotabato -- Chanting "layas, layas! (go away, go away)," some 800 protesters from South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and General Santos City (Socksargen) staged a rally today, demanding the immediate pull-out of an Australian-backed firm eyeing large-scale gold and copper mining operations here.

The anti-mining protest, held in front of the Catholic church here, came as about 200 supporters of the operations of Sagittarius Mines Inc.(SMI) gathered beside the company's main office a block away, for a "thanksgiving" program in connection with the ongoing indigenous people's month.

Carrying placards and streamers, the protesters urged the government to immediately stop the ongoing exploration activities being conducted by SMI.

"No to mining in Tampakan!" "Stop the destruction of our mountains!" read some of the streamers carried by the protesters who also staged a protest caravan in nearby Koronadal City and this town aboard least 40 trucks, cars and motorcycles.

The protesters included parishioners from at least 24 parishes under the Diocese of Marbel, farmers from Sultan Kudarat province and members of various groups allied with the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan.

Fr. Romeo Catedral, Social Action Center coordinator of the Diocese of Marbel, said they are protesting any mining activity here due to its possible environmental hazards.

He cited the experiences of mining communities in Davao, Cebu and Marindugue where mine tailings and wastes from large-scale mining operations eventually destroyed several waterways, particularly rivers and creeks.

"We are opposed to any mining activity here because there is no such thing as responsible mining. We have witnessed how large-scale mining activities destroyed several mining areas in the country. Their consequences are very tremendous and we will not allow them to happen here," Catedral said.

Aside from the environmental risks, Catedral said the mining operations also "disturb" the ancestral domain as well as the culture of the B'laan residents in the area.

He said the proposed mining activity will eventually dislocate the B'laan residents, particularly those currently staying within the proposed mining area.

Eliezer Billanes, chair of the Socsksargen Coalition of Anti-Mining Movements, questioned the legality of SMI's operations, stressing a Supreme Court (SC) ruling issued early this year that nullified the issuance of the Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement by the national government to SMI's predecessor the Australian Western Mining Corp. (WMC).

"The Supreme Court has already made its ruling and they must abide by it," Billanes said.

In a 95-page ruling, the high court early this year nullified several provisions of the 1995 Philippine Mining Act, including that which allows foreign companies to own and manage mining claims in the country.

The court ruled that the FTAA the government entered into with WMC in 1995 be canceled as it violated the Constitution. The government, through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources' Mines and Geosciences Bureau, appealed the SC ruling.

As the anti-mining protest was ongoing, local officials and residents of at least five barangays covered by the proposed mining area gathered beside SMI's office to reaffirm their support to the company's operations.

Tampakan mayor Claudius Barroso reiterated that the town, which receives a P2 million development assistance yearly from SMI, has greatly improved since the company came in last year.

"Because of SMI, we now have new roads, schools and health centers and more of these are still coming," the mayor said during the "thanksgiving program."

The program was also graced by officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Central Mindanao led by Environmental Management Bureau regional director Datu Tungko Saikol.

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