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Mindanao bishops reject Tampakan mines; urge govt to protect people’s interests

MANILA, Dec. 16, 2011—Three Mindanao bishops called on the government to protect and promote the interest of the people and not of mining companies.

Kidapawan Bishop Romulo dela Cruz, Marbel Bishop Dinualdo Guetierrez and Digos Bishop Guillermo Afable, in a collective statement, urged for protection of the environment and promote sustainable development.

The prelates reiterated their opposition to the Tampakan Copper and Gold Project of London based XSTRATA/SMI, which has a $5.6 B worth of mining investment in the country.

Mining will bring irreversible damage to the environment, the bishops stated, as they call for a moratorium from mining activity.

They added that they are particularly concerned of “the biodiversity and the last remaining forest, livelihood, food security, health and of the poor communities both of the IPs and the down-stream communities.”

Bishop Dela Cruz said he is not convinced “that the good which can be expected of the project will outweigh the harm it brings to man and nature alike.”

The prelates also called on authorities to respect the indigenous people’s right to self-determination. The Tampakan project is situated on ancestral lands belonging to B’laan communities.

Fr. Rey Ondap, a Passionist priest who works at the Catholic Mission on Indigenous Peoples, said that because of strong opposition from IPs to the project, “tensions are prevalent.”

The alleged harassment of the military in the IP communities prompted Marbel Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez to urge concerned parties to “avoid the escalation of violence.”

The bishops also denounced the country’s skewed mining policies which favor foreign investors to the detriment of the environment and the people’s health and livelihood.

They argued that after many years of mining the country’ minerals, only hazardous waste will be left to the Filipinos.

“The countries metallic minerals will be all gone and our laws only [required] pitiful taxes [from the company], but its destruction of the watershed, protected areas and agricultural zones are irreversible,” the bishops said.

XSTRATA/SMI is only required to pay the government 2 percent excise tax and other local taxes during its operation.

But the bishops said the taxes “which the mining companies are boasting are all fictitious because of its very minimal contribution of the mining industry to the Gross National Product (GNP).”

They also pointed out that the Tampakan Copper and Gold Project go against President Benigno Aquino’s seven strategic priorities to combat climate change, namely: 1) food security, 2) water sufficiency, 3) ecosystem and environmental stability, 4) human security, 5) climate smart industries and services, 6) sustainable energy, and 7) knowledge and capacity development.

“Above all, it goes against the Philippine Constitution which declares as a state policy “to promote healthy and balance ecology,” they added.

With a life span of about 17 to 20 years, the XSTRATA/SMI Tampakan project will extract around 6.375 tonnes of copper (375, 000 tonnes per annum) and 6.120 million ounces of gold (360, 000 ounces per annum of gold) in concentrate.

For his part, Digos Bishop Guillermo Afable voiced his concern on the impropriety of constructing facilities like fresh water dam and tailings dam at the Mal River Catchment, noting that these huge storage facilities are directly under criss-crossing fault lines.

His apprehension was seconded by the reviewer of the EIS of the company saying that “[t]he Tampakan mine has a high potential for loss of life and high environmental damage if a failure of Dams or Rock Storage facilities occurs.”

The bishops’ statement also noted that “the $76M Environmental Impact Assessment cost of the XSTRATA/SMI is not enough to study the impact of mining on this one of the most bio-diverse area comprehensively. It still leaves five general impacts that are not adequately answered: 1) the displacement and resettlement of onsite households, 2) the loss of onsite forest lands and biodiversity resources, 3) the diversion of surface and groundwater for the use of the mine and the displacement of existing in-stream and off stream users, 4) the acid drainage, spillage, leakages, overflows and the pollution of natural water source; 5) the risks of a tailings dam failure or collapse.

On November 9, the prelates sent a letter to the President asking for a meeting to discuss the issue of “open pit mining that is very destructive” because it is situated “in the heart of Quezon Mountain Range and at the heart of our forest and watershed,” but they did not receive any reply on the request.

The three dioceses of Kidapawan, Marbel and Digos have gathered some 108,424 signatures to back up their campaign against the mining project.

The CBCP-National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA) submitted the signatures to Malacanang on Dec. 14. (CBCPNews)