The US$ 5.9 billion project could have displaced hundreds of indigenous people and triggered flooding, environmental groups say
Open pit mining in South Cotabato province in the Philippines. (Photo: Marbel Diocese)
Catholic Church and environmental groups have claimed victory as the Philippine government canceled the permit of the country’s largest gold and copper mining firm for a controversial project that threatened the survival of hundreds of indigenous peoples.
Mayor Leonard Escobillo of Tampakan town, South Cotaboto, in the Mindanao region revoked the permit of Sagitarrius Mines, Inc. for the Tampakan project which sought to develop one of Southeast Asia’s untapped gold and copper reserve, on Sept. 16.
The permit was canceled due to the company’s fraud, erroneous classification and misrepresentation of its business status, the mayor alleged.
“The company falsely claimed that they are already into manufacturing… but they are not. They are clearly in the mining business with no manufacturing aspect. This description of the business on the undertaking that is to be conducted was falsely stated,” Escobillo told reporters on Sept. 16.
Escobillo said the mining firm is classified as a mineral exploration manufacturer, which is contrary to the local government unit’s assessment that the company is not operating as a manufacturer but as a general engineering contractor.
“There is a big difference, hence a ground not to issue the permit,” he added.
The backers of the firm reportedly pleaded to the mayor claiming that his decision was influenced by the anti-mining campaign by the Marbel Catholic Diocese.
The mayor responded that his decision was based on the law, nothing else.
“Nothing personal about this case. No opinion for or against mining. We are just doing our obligation to implement our ordinances and the law,” he added.
The company has yet to issue any statement regarding the permit cancelation though the copies of the order have been delivered to its officials.
Through the US$5.9 billion Tampakan project, the firm has been pushing for the removal of the prohibition on open-pit mining, which it says is the most viable method to extract the massive deposits in its tenement.
Environmental activists said if open-pit mining was allowed thousands of indigenous people would have been displaced and it would also cause flooding in the region.
“Yes, it may be giving jobs to the local people of Tampakan and South Cotabato, but how about the almost 400 million-peso (US$8 million) worth of taxes it failed to pay the government? How about the indigenous peoples living in the area?” environmental activist Jojo Peryamos told UCA News.
Peryamos was referring to a case filed before a local court asking for a restraining order and injunction to stop the operation of the mining firm.
He also said the tax liability of the mining firm forced itself to change its status from a general engineering contractor in 2004 to 2011 to a manufacturer in 2012.
More than 700 families had been evacuated because of the operation of the mining firm, he noted.
Hundreds of workers would not have jobs because of the closure but Peryamos said the environment in the region was saved by the closure, he added.
Marbel diocese in Cotabato province in the Mindanao region welcomed the decision.
The diocese has been staging protests for indigenous peoples in the region to save their ancestral lands from mining for years.
Father Jerome Millan, director of the Social Action Center of the Marbel diocese, said the revocation was a “victory” of the Catholic Church in fulfilling its role as guardians of the environment.
“We laud the local government unit for this positive move. Thank you for listening and putting into effect Pope Francis’ encyclical for the environment [Laudato Si],” Father Millan said in a statement posted on the Diocese’s Facebook page.
In June, Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo of Kidapawan Diocese and head of Caritas Philippines backed the anti-mining campaign of the Marbel Diocese.
“We encourage and join the people of South Cotabato in demanding public accountability and in carrying out the regular scrutiny of government transactions related, in particular, to environmental action,” the prelate said.
Father Millan said had the mining pushed through, hundreds of indigenous peoples would be forced to abandon their ancestral lands.
According to the company’s data, the Tampakan project was expected to yield 15.0 million tons of copper and 17.6 million ounces of gold in the estimated 17-year lifespan.
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