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SPECIAL REPORT: The Tampakan project: battle over Southeast Asias largest coppergold reserve (1)

By Bong S. Sarmiento on November 11 2012 8:21 pm

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.

Mt. Matutum, a dormant volcano and South Cotabatos landmark peak, beckons from the mines development site of Sagittarius Mines, Inc. Mindanews Photo by Bong Sarmiento

As the largest known undeveloped copper and gold minefield in Southeast Asia, the project of foreignbacked 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 areas 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 sandwith blood. The fact that the mineral deposits lie buried underneath ancestral lands of the Blaan tribe further complicates the already volatile situation.

A number of male tribal members have begun arming themselves with improvised shotguns and highpowered rifles like M16s and M1 Garands. They are ready and willing to use these, they say, should mining operations commence. The Blaans 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 usingkasfalatheir tribal justice systemto 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 worlds 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. 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 . 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

The Philippines tallest building as of 2012 is the 73-floor Gramercy Residences at Century City in Makati City while Mindanaos 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 Davaos 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 companys 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 Cotabatos 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 provinces 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 cant 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 companys 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 Cotabatos 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).

MINING FORUM. Thousands attend the forum on the Tampakan copper-gold project of Sagittarius Mines, Inc. in Koronadal City on September 23, 2011, sponsored by the provincial government of South Cotabato. The Tampakan project has become a hot issue in the countrys mining industry. MindaNews photo by Bong S. Sarmiento

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 riversTaplan River and Mal Riverthat 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 projects impact on biodiversityall 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 projects 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. Ju st 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 companys 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 firms 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 Minesor 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 companys spokesperson. Curiously though, the tribal communities remain mired in poverty. (Conclusion tomorrow: Tampakan

minefield: Dark side, bright prospect) (This special report by Bong S. Sarmiento was produced under the Environmental Investigative Reporting Fellowship project of the International Womens Media Foundatio

Pangalawa

The Tampakan Project: battle over Southeast Asias largest copper-gold deposit (2)
By Bong S. Sarmiento on November 12 2012 2:57 pm

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 couples four-year old daughter Angeline, fondly called Vicky, was unhurt. The girls future remains uncertain given the rising tensions within the tribal community of Bong Mal, where the killing happened. Bong Mal is the traditional Blaan 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.

Daguel Capion, leader of the armed Blaan tribesmen resisting the Tampakan project during an interview with MindaNews on October 1. MindaNews photo by Bong S. Sarmiento

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 Mals 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 Blaans, 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, thats 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 Blaan 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 Blaan 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 peoples 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 Years 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 Peoples Army (NPA), however, admitted responsibility for the 2008 raid and burning of the base camp. Capion and his band of armed Blaan 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 Blaan 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 Blaan 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 Bataswont do anything violent as they follow Capions 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 SMIs annual financial assistance like common function halls, health centers and sports facilities that were built using concrete or solid materials.

The Datal Biao Elementary School in Barangay Danlag in Tampakan, South Cotabato, the lone public school in the mines development site of Sagittarius Mines, Inc. MindaNews photo by Bong S. Sarmiento

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 companys 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 Capions wife Juvy and her children died, she told MindaNews many of them have not benefited from the companys 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 foundatio ns 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 SMIs annual cash assistance helped build portions of the towns 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 SMIs figures:

An annual contribution of on average PhP134 billion ($2.8 billion) to Philippine gross domestic product (GDP) each year over the construction and operation phases equivalent to an additional annual increase of 1% to Philippine GDP;

Total government revenues (national and local) through a variety of taxes and charges of approximately PhP307 billion ($6.4 billion) over the life of the project; Royalty payments and direct contributions in excess of PhP39.8 billion ($830 million) to local communities and local indigenous groups over the projects life; and Opportunities for approximately 10,000 workers during the peak of the construction phase and direct employment opportunities for approximately 2,000 workers during the operations phase.

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 SMIs ECC application. The issuance of the new mining policy by President Aquino in June 2012 did not explicitly lift the openpit 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 Pingoys 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 peoples 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 openpit 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 Womens Media Foundation)