Catholic bishops oppose mining firm’s operations in Mindanao

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ZAMBOANGA CITY: Filipino Catholic bishops have written President Benigno Aquino 3rd and pleaded to stop the $5.9-billion Tampakan mining project by global miner Xstrata‘s Sagittarius in South Cotabato, saying the gold and copper project will dislocated thousands of mostly indigenous tribesmen from their ancestral domain.

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The Independent Catholic News reported that bishops, led by new Cardinal and Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo, wrote a letter to Aquino recently, asking for a “God-enlightened decision” on the matter.

“The cost, Mr. President, will far outweigh the benefits to government and the Filipino people,” said the letter signed by 20 other Catholic bishops and archbishops.

The report also stated the harm done by the Tampakan mining project to the local community and environment. It also mentioned the government’s issuance of an environmental compliance certificate to Sagittarius in February 2013 despite appeals by various sectors to halt the project.

The report said Marbel Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez commented that Aquino ignored the petition of more than 100,000 people to scrap the mining project.

“The church leaders stressed their opposition against the project is based on moral grounds, as well as noting that the destruction of almost 4,000 hectares of forested and agricultural land and biodiversity is, in their view, against the integrity of God’s creation,” it said.

The bishops have long supported a campaign calling on the Philippine government to rescind the Mining Act of 1995 as it claimed the law brings more disasters than benefits, permitting foreign companies to own Philippine minerals. They want more emphasis placed on protecting the environment and the local communities over the desire of large-scale mining companies to rake in profits, the report said.

There was no immediate statement from either Xstrata or Sagittarius, but it is not the only mining firms in Mindanao where communist rebels have threatened to attack.

On April 5, suspected New People’s Army (NPA) members swooped down on Philippine Alstron mining company on the village of Tamamarkay in Agusan del Norte’s Tubay town and torched several trucks and other heavy equipment.

The communist rebels also seized at least six shot guns and short firearms from the company’s security arsenal.

There was no report of casualties but the daring assault came following threats made by the NPA on mining firms operating in the southern Philippines.

Last month, rebel forces attacked a police base and government troops in Davao del Sur’s Matanao as punishment for their “reign of terror” against indigenous tribes and other communities opposing mining operations in the province.

The NPA said the deadly attacks were punishments for police and military units protecting Glencore Xstrata which the rebel group claimed is exploiting nearly 100,000 hectares of ancestral lands of indigenous Lumad Blaans tribes and peasants in the region.

The NPA said it will attack Russell Mines and Minerals, Apex Mining Corp. and Philco in southern Mindanao; Dolefil, Del Monte and Sumifru plantations in northern Mindanao; TVI Resource Development Philippines in western Mindanao whose operations inside the ancestral domain of indigenous Subanen and Moro tribes are being opposed by villagers and Dipolog City Bishop Jose Manguiran.

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