Residents in Tampakan, South Cotabato, who say they will be affected by the mining operation (Photo by Mark Navales)
The government yesterday granted an environmental compliance certificate to the country's largest mining project, despite opposition from various sectors, including Church leaders in the southern Philippines.
The controversial US$5.9-billion Tampakan copper-gold project of Swiss firm Xstrata and its local unit, Sagittarius Mining Inc., was stalled for years over a ban on open-pit mining in South Cotabato province, one of the areas covered by the project.
"This approval is a dastardly act and should be condemned. How can you give a permit to a mining company which is already causing massive community displacement and enormous environmental damage?" said Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan.
Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez of Marbel diocese on Wednesday called on the public to strengthen opposition to the project, criticizing President Benigno Aquino for not listening to the voice of the people.
"[Aquino] is no longer believable. He said that the people are the 'boss', but it turned out that it was just a slogan," Gutierrez said.
Last year, the dioceses of Marbel, Kidapawan and Digos submitted 106,000 signatures against the project to the president.
"This country is going to the dogs," said Fr Rey Ondap, chairman of the Justice and Peace for the Integrity of Creation program of Marbel diocese.
The priest said the issuance of the certificate is "not just a disregard of the people’s sentiment against mining. It is also a betrayal of our future generation."
Some 4,000 hectares of trees will be cut and tribal communities will be displaced once the project starts to operate, according to the Philippine-Misereor Partnership.
Advocacy and legal officer Mario Maderazo said the issuance of the government clearance "is the beginning of wanton environmental destruction and human rights violations" in the area, including South Cotabato, Davao del Sur and Sultan Kudarat provinces.
Human rights group Karapatan said the issuance of the certificate sends a clear signal to foreign mining corporations to continue the violations of human rights in tribal communities.
“It is unfortunate that the move also shows [Aquino] leaning toward the big foreign mining corporation rather than the lives of the indigenous peoples living in the mountain communities," said Marie Hilao-Enriquez, Karapatan chairperson, at a press conference in General Santos City.
She said civilians, specifically members of the B'laan tribe who defend their rights to their land and resources, have become victims of abuses.
"The evacuation of B'laan families and the killing of tribal leaders are proof of this impunity," Enriquez said.
The mining company has yet to issue a statement regarding the approval of the certificate.
In the past, company officials assured that the project will undertake "responsible mining" and that measures will be put in place "to minimize environmental impacts."
After the approval, the mining company can now start operations, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said.