Tampakan, South Cotabato. Photo: JM Ferraris
Several non-governmental organizations and scientific research institutions were alarmed at the issuance of a permit by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) that allows a controversial mining project to proceed in Southern Cotabato, Mindanao.
A certificate of precondition (CP) was issued by the NCIP, based on the alleged agreement of Blaan indigenous leaders to the controversial Tampakan Gold-Copper Project (TGCP), operated by Sagittarius Mines, Incorporated (SMI).
“The devastation in Luzon in the wake of typhoons Rolly and Ulysses should teach us that a complex confluence of factors results in disasters. One of these factors is the continued destruction of forests, forests which serve as a protective buffer against typhoons. The threat posed by the Tampakan mining project in four contiguous provinces in Mindanao could echo what we’re seeing now in Northern Luzon and Metro Manila. We’d hate a scenario where these provinces will be submerged and people will suffer inordinately, because destructive large-scale mining projects are allowed to eat into what little is left of the country’s forest cover,” said Maya Quirino, coordinator of the SOS Yamang Bayan Network.
“Contrary to what some people have said that NCIP’s issuance of the certificate of precondition is a ‘dream come true’[i], to the people of Tampakan and the Diocese of Marbel — this is a nightmare! The proposed mining site will directly affect watersheds that support many communities,” said Bishop Allan Casicas, Bishop of Marbel, which covers the provinces and South Cotabato and Saranggani.
“Everything that is dependent on those watersheds will be affected, from South Cotabato to Davao del Sur to Saranggani and Sultan Kudarat. Those river systems depend on those watersheds that will empty into the Saranggani Bay, Davao Gulf, and Lake Buluan. It will affect water sources of communities and the irrigation system of the vast rice fields of Koronadal Valley. People cannot eat and drink copper and gold,” said Bishop Casicas.
According to Rene Pamplona, coordinator of Marbel-based Convergence of Initiatives for Environmental Justice (CIEJ), “It is common knowledge that issues concerning the opposition of many of the indigenous communities in Tampakan continue to persist. Communities have for years brought their petitions and complaints to the NCIP, but these have not been addressed. Those who oppose the project are often not invited to dialogues, and even discouraged from participating.”
Meanwhile, the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center (LRC) pointed out how the certificate of precondition bucks the trend of local decisions. The province of South Cotabato had issued an environmental ordinance that bans open-pit mining, of which method TGCP will use. A local court had upheld this ordinance after a motion was filed to question its validity.
“The provincial environmental code banning open-pit mining still stands. This is a model for local autonomy and for actualizing the Constitutional provision for people’s right to a balanced and healthful ecology. Despite the challenge posed by the SMI camp, the Court upheld its constitutionality. The local LGU of Tampakan has also issued a resolution withdrawing its support for the project,” said Atty. Ryan Roset, legal coordinator of LRC. “There is injustice when peoples’ right to land, culture, and a healthful ecology are traded for short-term economic gains,” said Roset.
Jaybee Garganera, national coordinator of Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM), said the Department of Environment (DENR) must also be put to task. “The DENR must be reminded about the questionable status of the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) of this mining project. Former DENR Sec. Gina Lopez had cancelled the ECC, but this was reinstated by the DENR without the proper requirements. Pres. Duterte has previously stated that he is against open-pit mining, and that he will not allow mining to destroy our environment. Allowing the Tampakan mine to proceed will undoubtedly ravage the watersheds of South Cotabato and betray indigenous peoples,” said Garganera.
During a stakeholders’ forum, organized by EcoTeneo of the Ateneo de Davao University and other NGOs, held on October 30, 2020, Fr. Pedro Walpole, SJ, director for research of the Institute of Environmental Science and Social Change, said that with the Tampakan mining operation, “It’s as if we’re creating a volcano. We are going to have to abandon a large area of land lost for copper and gold. Our watersheds have been crafted over millions of years, and we must manage them accordingly.”
Walpole said that a study that looked into the sustainable practices of mining operations in the Philippines found that “there was not one in the 21 legacy mines operating in the country that were managed as they should have been.”
[i] See former peace adviser Jesus Dureza calling NCIP’s issuance of certificate of precondition ‘a dream come true’ here: