Monday, April 18, 2011

Development Aggression for Second Quarter, 2011: Tampakan Project

Of all Mindanowan mining projects, and there are a great many, all pale in comparison to Tampakan. Named for a town in South Cotabato Province, largely populated by B'laan Tribesman (a Lumad group, an Animist Hilltribe) it will stretch across 4 provinces. I use the future tense, "will," because the mine is only on the drawing board at the moment. Primed to be the world's second largest gold, silver AND copper mine, it will be the single largest investment in Filipino History, to say nothing of Mindanao.

Most worrisome is the nature of the mine. After finishing Pre-Feasability Surveys in September of 2006, the investors concluded that Open Pit Mining would be the most cost-effective method of extraction. So, a giant festering sore will rip apart parts of 4 provinces: South Cotabato, Davao del Sur, Sarangani and Sultan Kuradat. The bulk of the project is controlled by SMI (Sagittarius Mines Inc.), a subsidiary of Xstrata Copper, a multi-national mining outfit based in Switzerland. Partnering with SMI/Xstrata is Indophil Resources NL, an Australian-based multinational. Locally SMC (San Miguel Corp.) has taken a piece of the pie with just over 10% of Indophil's 33% share of the project. I will get into all those gory details in a multi-entry series devoted to the overall financing, permitting and Hearts and Mines nonsense being proffered left and right. For every tribal chief the project manages to bribe into agreement another community is irreparably torn apart. For now I will simply offer the faintest and sketchiest outline of the endeavor, concentrating on its latest news, while leaving the meat and potatoes for an upcoming in depth entry on all facets of the mine.

Interestingly, and quite suprisingly, local government officials are largely united in their vehement opposition to this huge project. Just before she stepped down as Governor last June, Daisy Fuentes (now serving in Congress) signed off on a new Provincial Environmental Code that banned Open Pit Mining. Even more suprisingly- shockingly even- her successor Arthur Pingoy Jr. has turned out to be even more principled and has dug in his heels to go mano a mano not only with the pro-development camp, but has been going head to head with Manila over this issue as well.

As if to drive home the raison d'etre for local officials' anti-mining positions, Central Mindanao took extremely heavy rainfall in late March. The extra-heavy rains led to horrifying flooding and mudslides that caused the collapse of 2 separate small scale mines illegaly operating in South Cotabato Province, one of which is within the Tampakan tenement. Illegal miners, digging for gold use whatever timber hasn't already been illegaly logged off the mountain sides to construct their operations. Then, in this case, they operate a Banlas (local word for a "large scale sluice"), pumping river water over the mountain side in huge volumes. Aside from mercury, cyanide, de-forestation and societal breakdowns the tailings then wash almost unimpeded back down the slope and into the river.

Arguably the legal mine would negate the multitude of problems associated with the numerous small scale illegal mines. Instead of trying to do the impossible, policing the illegal miners who literally and exponentially increase on a daily basis, it might be a tad bit more sensible to fight battles that can be won. Since illegal mierrs operate entirely outside of the law they are entirely unregulated. Understandably they aren't too cognisant of the environmental and societal ramifications produced by their 7 or 8 years on a mountainside. Therefore, it might make more sense to allow multi-nationals in to do their dirty work as these companies, which are entirely profit driven, won't allow poaching on their tenements. Yet, this argument falls short because as bad as small scale mining is it will not rip apart 4 provinces and render the land unusable for centuries. More over, with small scale mining virtually all profit is retained by the Philippines. With any commercial mining operation the profits are getting sucked out along with the precious natural resources.

Today, April 18, Governor Pingoy took an aerial tour of the Tampakan tenement after being warned by a local military detachment that the illegal miners have deployed paramilitary soldiers in and around their mines. Aside from the deaths related to the mudslides there has also been another round of violence related to the Tampakan project. While taking an arial tour can be entertaining it won't be able to help the governor learn anything important. Indeed, it won't be able to tell him anything about the most recent killings.

On Friday, March 24 a convoy of 5 dump trucks owned by LVE Construction were slowly moving up the muddy dirt road in Sitio Datalbiao in Tampakan's Barangay Danlag when they were ambushed. When the smoke cleared 1 driver, Osias Pizania and 2 labourers riding in his truck, Rommel Vega and Nelson Parasan were all dead. A 2nd driver was critically wounded but survived. LVE is a subcontractor for SMI, hauling soil from test sites and is owned by Leonardo Escobillo who co-incidentally is the Mayor of Tampakan. Although something like this, a municipal official directly profiting from developmental work within his own municipality, would earn the good mayor a prison sentence in most any Western nation, here in the Philippines very few people see anything at all wrong with a person in a position of power using THAT position for personal enrichment.

The usual suspect would be the NPA, the Maoist Insurgency. After all the NPA has attaccked the project a few times in the past, most recently on New Years Day, 2008. Early that morning the NPA drove up to the SMI Base Camp in Barangay Tablu, situated less than 500 meters from an AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) garrison. Disarming the camp's SCAA (Special Civilians Active Auxiliary, a Force Multiplication entity paid for by private companies but armed, trained and VERY loosely supervised by the AFP). After capturing their weapons the guerillas firebombed and burned P12 Million worth of structures and equipment. Another time, the NPA went all the way into the town proper, its Barangay Poblacion, and attacked SMI's main office in the Philippines. This time though the AFP immediately turned everybody's attention towards a tribal leader whom the AFP and PNP (Philippine National Police) refuse to name. Of course I am neither with the AFP nor the PNP so I will tell all: The ambush team was under Datu Dagil Capion who is dead set against the mine.

A month before the ambush, on February 22, tribal leader of the S'bangken band of B'laan and a Barangay Kagawad (Councillor) for Barangay Tablu where the SMI Base Camp is located, Datu Tonio Binuhay and his wife Rosanna were in their home in Purok Quezon, in the lowland barangay of Santa Cruz. Without warning brothers Ricky and Morito Puli and their cousin Gasmin Puli entered the home and killed the couple with point blank shots to the back of the head. Rosanna was 7 months pregnant at the time. Her husband was very supportive of the mine and as a tribal leader he would be able to exert considerable influence.

It is important to note that Morito Puli was ALSO a Kagawad for that same barangay, Tablu. These killings at least weren't simply connected to pro and anti-mining partisan concerns. The Puli Clan was livid over what they felt was a lowball figure offered in SMI's Crop Compensation Programme. A few meters of their corn field was plowed under as SMI sank test pipes. Tonio Binuhay was bought off by SMI with the job of administering the compensation payoffs. On March 09 the 3 Puli Clansmen were charged by the South Cotabato Provincial Prosecutor with Multiple Murder.

SMI immediately panicked, fearing outright tribal warfare and quickly shut down its operations. Since the NPA attack on the Base Camp in 2008 the company had outsourced protection to what most locals call, "Blue Guards," a private security firm. Utilising Catena Security Inc., a local subsidiary of the UK-based contractor, "G4S" (Group 4 Securicor). This switching directions with regard to security didn't benefit them a whole lot. On December 20, 2010 two of their guards were on a mobile patrol near one of their test sites in Sitio Alyong when they took sniper fire.

Aside from the violence, on March 25, SMI's Corporate Communications Manager (why can't they simply say, "Spokesman") finally reacted to the pressures faced by a long and arduous struggle to gain the necessary approvals needed to go forward with the project. Though the Environmental Code was replaced, there was no implementation mechanism. Ergo, for the past few months Governor Pingoy has had a Technical Working Group formulating the code's IRRs (Implementation Rules and Regulations). SMI's man, John B.Arnaldo says that although it is very stressful the company is pinning all its hopes on the Provincial Council which has yet to make a determination as to whether-or-not it will move for a Review of the IRRs.

Governor Pingoy though says that short of the Council recommending such a review, or a court order, the Environmental Code containing that overall ban on Open Pit Mining will go into effect just ss soon as the provincial government has the IRRs published in a local newspaper. Ironically, the IRR didn't actually have any real connection with the Mining Ban since it is a Stand alone Provision, not requiring an actual implementation mechanism. It is merely a technicality, part of the normal approval machinery.

As the clock winds down Governor Pingoy has asked for each of his Provincial Councillors to submit, in writing, a clear articulation of their position on a Review for the IRRs. To date only 1 councillor has complied, Jose Madanguit. Mr.Madanguit currently is Vice Chairman of the Council's Environmental Committee, having actually chaired it in his last term on the council. Councillor Madanguit has stated that he will not be seeking any review.

When Ms.Fuentes was Governor, the Provincial Council voted 5:4 for the new Environmental Code, with 2 Councillors absent. The day of the vote, June 02, 2010 turned into an all day debate over part of a single line: "Open-Pit Mining AND ALL OTHER FORMS OF MINING shall not be allowed in the Province of South Cotabato (emphasis being mine).". At the time SMI's man, Mr.Arnaldo, was much more complacent than he was 3 weeks ago. He said that it really didn't matter what former Gov.Fuentes and the Provincial Council DID or DID NOT do, the Philippines Mining Act of 1995 legalised Open-Pit Mining. He then arrogantly noted,"A local law cannot supercede a national law." Funny what a difference a few months makes.

In late November, Secretary Jesse M.Robredo of DILG (Dept.of Infrastructure and Local Govt.) issued a memorandum that didn't go over too well in South Cotabato Province. The epitome of hubris and everything wrong in Manila-Mindanowan relations, Secretary Robredo demanded that local government officials not implement the new Environmental Code. In response both the governor AND the Provincial Council told Robredo to mind his own business. Governor Pingoy says that after conferring with provincial legal counsel the provincial position is that DILG is a supervisory entity and I'd not legally able to dictate provincial policy.

Finally, on April 13th during an official visit to GenSan (General Santos City in Sarangani Province) President Aquino said that he is growing impatient with the provincial position. He said that normally he would give precedence to the sentiments expressed by local government but feels that in this case South Cotabato's position will only create more problems down the road. He noted, as I myself noted earlier in this entry that IF there isn't a large commercial mining entity on a particular tenement it will be innundated by small scale miners. While that is true, using it as a rationale to allow a wholesale rape of Mindanao is despicable. Instead of dealing with the issue, in this case small scale illegal mining, President Aquino would have us abandon justice in lieu of the easier path. Aquino is proving himself less a leader than his late mother and she was a terrible leader. Let us hope that he becomes a problem solver instead of a quick-fix mechanic.

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