Dioceses to stage protest action vs mining firm

THREE Catholic Church dioceses in Mindanao are planning to mobilize its flock for another huge protest action against Sagittarius Mines, Incorporated.

Efforts are underway to organize a joint protest rally against the disparaging mining business in Kiblawan town, revealed Fr Cornelio Toraja, director of Digos diocese’s Social Action Center.

Although no specific date was given, this rally, which is slated in Kiblawan, Davao del Sur, will be the third time in the last three years spearheaded by ranking Catholic Church leaders surrounding the mines development site.

In April 2006, the bishops of the dioceses of Marbel, Kidapawan and Digos forged an alliance, amid the presence of an estimated 8,000 supporters in the town of Tampakan in South Cotabato, to oppose the presence of Sagittarius in the area.

Some 5,000 people, in May 2005, also gathered in Tampakan town to condemn the firm’s presence, with local Catholic Church officials leading the event.

Kiblawan and Tampakan towns straddle the mines development site of Sagittarius, as well as the municipality of Columbio in Sultan Kudarat province.

Sagittarius is being controlled by major global mining player Xstrata Copper, with Australian Indophil Resources NL as junior partner.

In a statement posted recently at the website of the influential Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), it cited leaders of the B’laan, the dominant indigenous tribe in the area, as saying the agreement between them and the company was made in a “dubious way.”

Sagittarius made a survey for the Tampakan Copper-Gold Project after signing a 2003 accord with B’laan elders who agreed to explore the 300-square-kilometer mining site for a decade, the statement said.

“The agreement was not explained well and without proper consent,” the B’laan leaders said.

In the process, there have been reported instances whereby tribal communities are divided and dispute among them is looming, according to Fr. Toraja.

Sought for reaction, Roy D. Antonio, Sagittarius senior coordinator for corporate affairs, denied the company deceived the B’laan elders in coming up with the agreement.

“In the signing of the principal agreements, there is always the presence of NCIP [National Commission on Indigenous Peoples] officials who explain to them [the impact of the project],” Antonio said.

On the planned religious-led rally, he said the people have the right to assembly.

“Also, the company is open to a direct dialogue with the three dioceses with regards to the Tampakan project,” Antonio said.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources upholds mining for the reason that increases the country’s economy and it records the Tampakan mines as one of 24 priority projects.

The CBCP has repeatedly urged the National and Local governments to reconsider large-scale mining operations that cause environmental hazards and destruction of peoples’ livelihood.

During the 2005 Mindanao Mining Forum, the bishops supported calls for Congress to revoke the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, which allows foreigners to engage in mining operations in the country.

In a separate statement, the Citizens Alliance Unified for Sectoral Empowerment also urged Sagittarius to abandon its project. The firm is currently on an exploration stage for the world-class mineral deposits.

“The mining operations of SMI in Kiblawan will not only affect the people of that municipality but also the people of Davao del Sur and the areas surrounding Davao Gulf as well,” the group said. (SunStarGeneralSantos)

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