MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Locals fight 'monster' Tampakan project

Published by MAC on 2009-11-02

Xstrata recently announced a further increase in estimated resources at the Tampakan mine project - to 13.5 million tonnes of copper and 15.8 million ounces of gold.  In covering the announcement, Miningnews.net used the headline: "Monster grows again" - which would seem a fair summary, especially from the viewpoint of local people.

As opposition by the tribal B'laan looks like becomingy more violent, Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez met with staff of the Philippine-based subsidiary, SMI, and warned them to "expect more opposition in the days ahead".

Meanwhile, SMI has revealed plans for further 'development' of a power plant; objections to coal-fired power stations, linked to the project, generate as much anger as the mine itself.

Discontent in a mining wilderness

By Romer S. Sarmiento, Special Report, Business World

28 October 2009

KIBLAWAN, DAVAO DEL SUR - Frustration has gone beyond boiling point in a bucolic tribal community here where guns have become the norm rather than the exception.

Circled by mountains and shrouded by an eerie calmness, Bong Mal is an enclave of B’laan tribesmen most of whom cannot read and write, nor speak or understand the dialect of the lowlanders.

On a clear day, thick rolling greenery (giant trees, grasses, corn fields) sways to the breeze as far as the eyes can see. The night is unusually cold, cricket sounds fill the air, fireflies twinkle around treetops.

Deep into the jungle, Bong Mal in Barangay Kimlawis can be reached through a two-hour trek off treacherous dirt roads from the town proper. It is a prospective copper and gold producer.

But not everything has not been going on fine in this tribal community, where wielding a gun has been traditionally considered a “way of life and a badge of honor.” Tempers have gone out of control — with blood already staining the ground and
voices of discontent flowing out strong like the current of a nearby river.

“I shot a militiaman to death a few months back,” said 18-year-old Joel Saluli, an improvised shotgun beside him. “I was disgusted because they promised me a job and it did not come. They did give jobs, but those who benefited were not us but those from outside our community.”

The young man was with two other teenage tribesmen when the crime took place. They have since been hiding in the vast jungle whose terrain they know like the palm of their hands.

Saluli, who came out under the cover of darkness, appeared unrepentant. Before the shooting, the young man narrated, he was arrested by soldiers for barricading the road out of disgust over the desecration of his elders’ tomb. He was later released.

All it took was a bulldozer and the hallowed ground was gone, he lamented, adding that it was done without his family’s prior consent. He laid the blame on mining firm Sagittarius Mines, Inc., which is exploring Bong Mal for copper and gold deposits.

The village is part of the so-called Tampakan project of Sagittarius, which owns mining rights straddling the towns of Tampakan in South Cotabato and Columbio in Sultan Kudarat. The mines development site covers five tribal communities.

Sagittarius’ drilling activities have focused on Bong Mal since last year following the raid by the communist New People’s Army (NPA) on the company’s base camp in Barangay Tablu, Tampakan. No one was killed in the incident but at least P12 million
worth of equipment was burned.

At the heart of Barangay Kimlawis where Bong Mal belongs, a company base camp now stands, fenced with barbed wire and teeming with private security guards.

This once quiet village is now roaring with the sound of heavy equipment like payloaders, bulldozers, road rollers (pison), and tractors.

It has also become a “showroom” of the latest pickup truck models like D-Max, Frontier, and Strada. At any given time, at least 30 of them reportedly cruise the development site.

Bong Mal natives see only one beneficial effect of the mining firm’s operation so far: the opening of roads, which have allowed the B’laans to transport more easily their products, mostly corn, to trading centers in the lowlands.

With Sagittarius’ presence, the mountains here have become a land of more and more guns, taking into exception the weapons long in the hands of the tribesmen. Aside from the company’s security guards, soldiers and militiamen under Task Force Kitaco have been deployed here.

Earlier, the mayors of the three towns within the mines development site agreed to institutionalize the Kiblawan-Tampakan-Columbio (Kitaco) Growth Area that would draw up their common economic road map. The Kitaco Growth Area initiative has the support of Sagittarius. Task Force Kitaco’s role was to keep peace and protect the community from attacks from NPA rebels and not as protectors solely of Sagittarius, as critics charged. Whatever the reason, the scenario these days is that wherever the mining firm’s facilities are, military detachments are just a stone’s throw away.

“That’s been the case here. If soldiers are not in front, they are at the back of the company as the mining firm carries out its activities,” said B’laan leader Pilo Capion. A former supporter of the company, having worked for it as part of the community
relations staff, he’s now waging an opposition drive — recently siding with the local Catholic Church — to boot out the company from their community.

The 28-year-old husband of two wives and father of five children cited several instances when soldiers forced tribesmen to clear their area to give way to access roads to the firm’s drilling activities.

“Some of us were not informed by the company that they would bulldoze our lands to serve as access roads. We’d only find about it later,” said Capion, who killed a man in his younger years and suffered for it in prison.

Lairan Jantin, Capion’s grandfather, said it would be better for Sagittarius to pull out from their village. “The company’s here in our community, but those benefiting are from the outside. They better go away.”

He said the tribal elders were promised the heavens when the mining company came in several years ago so they gave their consent to the firm’s plans. But he claimed they were not told about the project’s ill effects — such as, they would be uprooted from their communities because the mountains would be turned upside down.

Dagil Capion, Pilo Capion’s younger brother, said the money the company would give them in exchange for their lands would eventually be drained.

“Here in the mountains, we can live even without money. Everything here is basically free. The presence of the mining company is doing more bad than good to our community. They should respect us if we don’t want them anymore,” Dagil said.

Like Pilo, Dagil also experienced working at Sagittarius, an indication that, observers say, the two have weight in the community hierarchy. Several other tribal members tell stories of manipulation, intimidation, and deceit that “only vultures could bring to a tribe stuck in poverty and ignorance for so long.”

One common message they have is for Sagittarius to now back off. Fr. Romeo Q. Catedral, social action director of the Diocese of Marbel, was appalled by what he found out after visiting Bong Mal recently.

“What we saw and heard were just terrible. [We learned] that though they gave their consent before to Sagittarius, they didn’t know that the company [would] turn their area upside [down],” the priest said.

“They never understood what large-scale mining was all about and would have never allowed the mining company if they were told in the first place,” the priest noted.

Mining Firm’s Side

Grace A. Ganchero, Sagittarius manager for corporate community and sustainability department, admitted there’s growing discontent among the tribesmen in Bong Mal regarding the company’s presence.

But she played it down as the result of a “tribal leadership crisis.” Ganchero also denied the military is serving mainly the company.

“Based on our business principle, we cannot do that — threaten people and use the military to advance our interest,” she said in a recent meeting with religious leaders in Koronadal City.

John B. Arnaldo, Sagittarius corporate communications manager, stressed in that meeting that “respect for human rights is very important to us.” He gave assurances that if the tribe in Bong Mal says no to the company’s operation, “we’ll respect it.”

Based on the latest study of Sagittarius, estimated resources are at least 2.4 billion tons at a grade of 0.6% copper and 0.2 grams per ton gold; and 13.5 million tons of copper and 15.8 million ounces of gold, using a 0.3% copper cut-off grade.

The new estimate is 8% higher than the 2007 estimate of 2.2 billion tons at 0.6% copper, using the same cut-off grade. This makes the Tampakan project the one of the largest undeveloped copper deposits in Southeast Asia. But it seems the glittering treasure is no longer attractive to the tribe in Bong Mal.

Romer S. Sarmiento is a BusinessWorld corrspondent in Mindanao, based in Koronadal City.


Tampakan mining firm fails to get church backing

MindaNews

20 October 2009

KORONADAL CITY - Officials of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI) failed to convince the Diocese of Marbel (South Cotabato) into supporting the firm's Tampakan copper-gold project despite claims of high social acceptability of the mining venture among the people in the area. In a two-hour meeting yesterday in his residence here, Bishop Dinualdo D. Gutierrez maintained his stance that "open pit mining is destructive to the environment. Trees will be cut, thus the lowlands will be flooded. We need to preserve the environment for the future generation."

During the meeting, the Sagittarius executives confirmed to the bishop it will employ open pit method in extracting the copper and gold deposits.

SMI executives present in the meeting were Elvie Grace A. Ganchero, manager of corporate community and sustainability department, John B. Arnaldo, corporate communications manager, and Rolando S. Doria, superintendent for national external affairs.

The meeting was the first between the two parties since January 17, 2003 when SMI revived the project previously owned by Western Mining Corp.

Gutierrez's continued opposition apparently eclipsed an announcement today by another company official that resource estimates are now bigger.

Arnaldo noted the meeting with the bishop was 'a much-awaited" event for the company.

"We're waiting for this for so long. Hopefully, this will be the start of a series of dialogue (with the diocese). All along we wanted to establish communication with all our stakeholders," he said.

In an apparent bid to get the backing of the outspoken bishop, Ganchero conceded that the track record of the mining sector in the country is not good but that "we as a company are trying to demonstrate a practice that is different from the traditional practice."

She said a company-commissioned perception survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations showed that the Tampakan project "had a high acceptability" among the people in the area.

But Gutierrez belied this, saying the people's acceptability was largely due to monetary considerations offered by the company.

At one point in the meeting attended by a select group, the bishop blurted that the "devil is confusing the enemy," alluding to the company and the local Catholic Church, respectively.

Ganchero said the company was able to get the support of people in the mining area due to the awareness and education campaign they have been doing.

"Expect more opposition in the days ahead (from the diocese)," the Bishop told the mining executives.

As this developed, Peter Forrestal, Sagittarius president, announced on Tuesday a revised mineral resource estimate for the Tampakan project.

The new measured, indicated and inferred resource estimate totals 2.4 billion tons at a grade of 0.6% copper and 0.2 grams per ton gold and contains 13.5 million tons of copper and 15.8 million ounces of gold, using a 0.3% copper cut-off grade, the company said in a statement.

The mineral resource also contains estimated average grades for molybdenum of 70 parts per million.

The total tonnage of the mineral resource has increased by 8%, compared to the 2007 estimate, reflecting increased metal price assumptions.

The significant increases in measured and indicated tons are the result of further drilling work comprising 41 drill holes totaling 14,900 meters.

"The latest results confirm Tampakan's position as one of the largest undeveloped copper deposits in South East Asia and its emerging development potential," Forrestal said.

The previous mineral resource estimate of 2.2 billion tons at 0.6% copper, using the same cut-off grade, was published in December 2007.

Fr. Romeo Q. Catedral slammed the big-scale Tampakan project, saying it "brings social ills." (MindaNews)


Sagittarius proposes new port, power plant

BY Romer S. Sarmiento, Correspondent, Business World

19 October 2009

GENERAL SANTOS --- Foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc. has revealed plans to build a power plant and a port in this city for its Tampakan copper-gold project.

Bella D. Lechonsito, Sagittarius Mines superintendent for stakeholder engagement and partnership, said the firm was studying sites for facilities required to support the operation of the Tampakan project.

In a recent letter to Mayor Pedro B. Acharon, Jr., she said the port would allow the company to export its mineral concentrates and import fuel for the proposed power plant. Ms. Lechonsito did not state in her letter whether the power plant would be fired by oil or by coal.

Sagittarius Mines' proposed location for the power plant is the village of Fatima or Sinawal, the letter, obtained by BusinessWorld, said. From the city to Tampakan, South Cotabato, the transmission line would run approximately 65 kilometers.

Critics earlier claimed Sagittarius Mines would get power from the Alcantara-led Conal Holdings Corp., which is planning to build a 200-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Maasim, Sarangani worth $450 million.

Sister Susan O. Bolanio, spokeswoman of Socsksargen Climate Action Now, had raised suspicions that Sagittarius Mines would get some of its power requirements from Conal Holdings, since both are partly owned by the Alsons group.

Alsons has 3.27% interest at Sagittarius, which is controlled by Xstrata Copper through a 62.5% stake. The other junior partner in the Tampakan project is Australian firm Indophil Resources NL, which owns 34.23% of the project. At Conal Holdings, Alsons has the 60% controlling interest in the coal plant venture. The rest is held by the Electricity Generating Public Co. Ltd., Thailand's largest power producer.

Sagittarius Mines is already in the final feasibility stage costing $74 million. It is expected to be completed by the first half of 2010. The company hopes to go into commercial stream by 2016.

In an interview on Sunday, Ms. Lechonsito vehemently denied that Sagittarius Mines and Conal Holdings were discussing power supply deals.

However, she told BusinessWorld the company was considering the option to get power from independent power producers. Building a company-owned power plant is also an option, she added.

Other possible sites for a power plant are Malita, Davao del Sur and Davao City, Ms. Lechonsito said.

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