Fearing possible pullout of the $5.9-billion Tampakan copper-gold project, tribal leaders in South Cotabato appealed to President Benigno Aquino 3rd, asking for government’s full commitment in the realization of what could be the Philippines’ biggest mining project to date.
In a resolution filed to the Office of the President, the Indigenous Cultural Communities (ICCs) and South Cotabato Provincial Tribal Council (PTC) expressed full support to Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI), the private contractor of the Tampakan project.
The tribal groups said that they fear the possible discontinuance of the project, following the announcement by SMI that it would scale down operations amid regulatory impasse.
Tampakan currently faces substantial development challenges, which include the current ban on the open-cut mining method within the South Cotabato Environment Code, clarification of the free and prior informed consent process, and an “extremely complex and uncertain” pathway to ultimate project approval.
“If this happens, it will adversely impact the lives of the ICCs depriving them from productively developing their ancestral domain,” the groups said.
Earlier, SMI announced the major scale-down of its activities that resulted in manpower downsizing, leaving many of their tribal members jobless after the Glencore-Xstrata Plc merger.
Fulong Ben Dalimbang, head of Koronadal City PTC, said they are saddened by the devastating loss of livelihood that resulted from the recent downsizing of multi-national mining giant SMI in South Cotabato.
He also said that the advocacies and projects started by SMI such as road maintenance to farming villages occupied by members of the indigenous peoples (IP) have been put on hold pending the takeover of SMI’s new mother company, Glencore.
However, the PTC is hopeful that through their resolution, President Aquino can look into the status of the mining project, and ensure that it will push through on behalf of the countless IP and Mindanaoans reaping from the benefits of this mining project.
Dalimbang also said that they have also asked President Aquino to look into the plight of the now jobless members of the IP.
For the meantime, he said that tribal leaders are adapting a “wait and see” attitude, seeing that they have yet to meet with the officials of Glencore. Besides loss of livelihood, the local tribal council also fears that with SMI leaving the area, illegal small-scale miners might encroach on the mineral-rich identified areas and conduct operations thereon.
For the moment, the PTC is set to convene to discuss the matter further and explore the next possible options from their end.