The ECC of Tampakan was okayed. So the proposed ‘$5.9B mining project with a potential to produce 13.5 million tons of copper and 15.8 million ounces of gold’[1] has the go signal "subject to conditions".


As much as I want to be “rational” and “think of the computers and cellphones” we use and the “responsible mining” mantra of Sagittarius Mines Inc (SMI)- Xstrata and their supporters would say, I would like still to believe that the so called decision-makers for this very crucial project will be critical enough to determine the consequences of the project. Not just for this project but most of all on the capacity of government agencies to implement and regulate the industry.


Was I surprised yesterday? Probably I am. But knowing how bullish the national government have became the past few weeks- from DOJ Sec. Leila De Lima issuing statements that DILG have a “standing position” of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and local officials might face charges on the open-pit ban to the tossing back of Malacanang to DENR for the re-review of EIA. I think I saw it coming.


A part of me still, is putting my faith on the critical areas to be considered. Not just the so called "experts" opinion but consider the farmers and the downstream communities. Consider the ongoing violence and unsolved killings in the area.


Let us go back in history. Let us remember that SMI-Xstrata is not the only company/player in the area. There are a wide array of documents on its history of changing FTAA "owners" (see Goodland and Wicks, 2008; Lozano, 1997). The area has a long history of struggle in showing its opposition. Stories of small victories easily withdrawn by the national government-- from the Supreme Court’s decision in favour of the La Bugal Tribal Association to flipflopping of its own decision after 11 months!

But beyond the large amount of money supposedly the mining project will add to our GDP, have we asked them again the difficult questions about the watershed, aquifers, river tributaries and the possible impact to the irrigation and drinking water? Have the farmers and migrants’ concerns from downstream communities been considered? (I think 'social acceptability' must consider stakeholders who will be affected the most, i.e. downstream communities esp. the farmers and water users, not just the "final mining site").


On Water, Food Security and Promised Benefits

The Provincial Environmental Code that bans open pit mining (the method that SMI will be using) was neither an easy struggle nor a midnight decision. I was lucky when I got to talk to Congresswoman Daisy Avance- Fuentes (former Governor and the one who signed the Envi Code) sometime in November 2010. She shared her concern on the difficulties they have to face when she decided to sign the law. She said she could not fathom not to sign, even though she’s not certain if they’ll be able to win the legal fight about the powers of the LGU in national government but she has to sign “to ensure that I am not going to leave the other farmers below without any protection.”


“It's either I veto the whole Envi code or not. Envi Code is beautiful as far as I'm concerned except for one controversial provision. I think even the national law doesn't have that kind of compilation. All are already there- water, air protection. National law was localized through a one code only. We worked hard for it. That’s why I was so mad with Secretary [Robredo]. You do not insult the local government officials. You read the Envi Code and do not tell us that we are so irresponsible.”


The company is “transparent” according to her since they have been giving them documents, except for the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) document which they did not give since it was not yet done and “too scientific” before she has to decide whether or not to sign the Code. She also shared that one has to quantify these promised “benefits.”


“They can tell us about billions. About thousands of students they put in school. .. You can easily pay for P300 a year for elementary students. But we learned from our study that many quit schools because the children have no allowances. It only means that the parents are not employed, earning sufficient to supply this. When you hear them talk about numbers, you will be happy. But when you ask them where they plant the 110,000 trees and how many hectarage, they could not pinpoint.”


She also cited the 2003 study conducted by DENR have been her basis on the fragility of the water in the area:


“the base camp where the mining pit is located in a hydrologic divide of Davao del Sur and South Cotabato and it's serving as a water catchment. It means that it is not only a forest but the soil also absorbed the water that in a way they feed our aquifier which is also the source for our creeks, rivers and even drinking water. We are here 1000 ft. below Koronadal, Tampakan, a portion of Tupi and you will see on the map that the groundwater will flow up to Tantangan, Lutayan. Our drinking water is also the same. So pag inalis mo yan, common sense lang, pag inalis mo yang water catchment na yan, na mag-aabsorb na parang cotton, saan kukuha ng source ang rivers, creeks and inumin ang mga tao namin? So ang tinatanong lang namin sa kanila, is there any available mitigating intervention that you can do? (If you take it out, just common sense, you took the water catchment the one that absorbs water like cotton, where will be the source of rivers, creeks and our drinking water for our people? So what we have been asking them, is there any available mitigating intervention that you can do?)


The mitigating factors presented by SMI-Xstrata were insufficient, brushing away the negligible possible impact on water source of Koronadal and neighboring municipalities. She also added:


“the community the company will destroy is just small (three barangays), they can pay them off to live, but the bigger affected community that they will destroy, and they could not assure them. Land is a resource and livelihood, the downstream agricultural communities can be destroyed forever.” (emphasis added).


Even after the Provincial Envi Code was signed and the IRR was being crafted, SMI made same presentation to the Sangguniang Panlungsod, highlighting the same high numbers of employment to be generated, scholarships to be given and taxes to be paid to the LGU. But what is the assurance for the water? Nada. because they have been claiming the impact will be negligible. How can it be negligible when it is the source of the 'feeders' for your water source?


So are the farmers downstream and the Provincial LGU overreacting when they asked in several occasion the company’s mitigation measures?


And with the disasters we experience, intensified storms and earthquakes, has the EIA considered these or have been mouthing the “world class technology” assurance for their mine tailings pond and fresh water dam?


And again and again I will call to our dear implementing agencies, how do we make officials and companies accountable when disaster strikes? Is the cheque enough to assuage our fears?


Social cost of doing business in mineral extraction continues at the expense of the local communities. The royalty fee and lack of transparency has been raised continuously as more and more foreign investors are being encouraged to fund the exploration, feasibility and commercial development of the country’s finite resources. The supposed benefits of mining industry from revenues and employment are not that dramatic in contrast to the huge externality costs. Too many unwarranted fiscal and non-fiscal incentives given away to mining firms also dissipate potential revenues.[2]


The concept of having “socially sustainable responsible mining” is being questioned. Is it possible? Given the dominance of weak government institutions, their regulatory functions are easily captured by vested interests. Without these effective institutions, it is difficult to put in place a cohesive developmental framework sensitive to people, IPs and the farmers’ demands.

As one farmer from our barangay said, ‘Ang pagmina daw pagpangaluyag lang na. Maayo lang na sa sugod. Pag nakuha na nila ang tanan, pabay-an ka na lang sina (Mining is like courting. It is only good at the start. But when they get everything, they will leave you behind).” It was a joke in some sense but it also mirrors how the industry and the regulatory agencies have dealt with the previous lapses in mining.


Giving the go signal to the company is a huge risk and informed critical decisions must be made. Assure us of the mitigating measures. And for the national government, isn't the local government units that will remain in directly engaging the communities? As Fuentes added:


“Whatever happens on the ground and after the mining operations, it is the Local Government that will be handling the bag whether it's empty or not.”



On the "ultra vires" issue of Provincial Envi Code vs Mining Act, the article by Atty. Dan Gatmaytan is quite helpful too. Read it here.

PS. Oh by the way, I came from the adjacent barangay of Tampakan. That is why this issue is very personal for me.



[1] SMI, 2008 data
[2] Landingan, R. (2006). Tax Exemption bleed billions from government. PCIJ.



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