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Tampakan residents call for transparency in settling mining disputes

Updated: Mar 6, 2023

Tampakan residents call for transparency in settling mining disputes

Residents affected by the proposed operations of the controversial US$5.9-billion (roughly Php297-billion) mining project in Tampakan, South Cotabato has called for the release of all vital documents and open discussions connected to the mine in an online learning forum organized by the Mediators' Network for Sustainable Peace (MedNet) and the Partnership Mission for Peoples Initiatives Inc. (PMPI) held 21 January 2021.

The request was made directly to Dir. Michael Mamukid of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) Region 12 office and his staff who attended the forum. NCIP committed to provide Tampakan stakeholders, through the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Marbel, with the relevant documents within a month.

Marbel Bishop Cerilo Alan Uy Casicas supported the petitioners in requesting for the documents and enjoined everyone to continue the dialogue to help resolve the issues in a peaceful manner.

The documents being requested concerned the Certification Precondition (CP) given to the Saggitarius Mines, Inc. (SMI) the reports on the activities on the conduct of the Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) process, the Field-Based Investigation (FBI) reports conducted from 2008-2016, and results of all community and area-based surveys conducted, among others.

Representing the affected 4,000 residents were the B’laan community in the area, the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Marbel that is supporting the residents; and civil society groups that included the multisectoral Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM).

The proposed mining project covers almost 24,000 hectares, touted to be Southeast Asia’s largest untapped copper and gold mining project. Within the proposed area are two river systems and Lake Buluan and Liguasan Marsh that are sources of food and water for households and farming areas of residents in the surrounding communities.

It has been granted the right to extract the deposit in the ancestral domain of the B’laan indigenous peoples. SMI, developer of the Tampakan project, has obtained the CP, a vital requirement from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) that allows the company to explore and extract the mining deposits within the ancestral domain.

The CP is a certification that indigenous peoples (IPs) have given their consent to the mining venture within their ancestral domain, and that the Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) process has been satisfactorily complied with by the company. However, representatives to the forum said that there was no transparency in the process, thus they have not given the consent.

The local court has also dismissed all petitions filed by the residents against the proposed mining operations, making the process of establishing the mine legal.

The mining area covers five Certificates of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) given collectively to the tribes, but only three CADT holders have reportedly given their consent. One community, the BongMal territory, has indicated it has not given its consent.

According to Larry Dianten, representative of the B’laan Community, they have long been waiting for a clarification from the NCIP and relevant agencies over activities, such as the survey that is being conducted in the area. They are also wondering if the residents who will be displaced in the area will have a suitable relocation site that will also accommodate both their households, communities, farm fields and the adjoining environment.

To date, there are reports that the mining project is willing to pay Php160,000 per hectare per year to the affected residents, but the contract on this was not yet made public, adding to the confusion of the people. This has also raised criticisms that the people are being confused and divided over the issue.

Dianten said with no public forums, the residents do not know what agencies, aside from NCIP, should answer their different queries and make decisions about the project. They have repeatedly asked for updates regarding this issue.

He also asked for an update on all community development projects that the mining firm has claimed to be funding in the area, since there are alleged human rights violations that have been committed in the affected areas. Sagittarius Mines, Inc., the proponent mining firm, has reportedly spent more than Php36 million to assist the communities, as demanded by the country’s mining laws.

Jaybee Garganera, a representative of Alyansa Tigil Mina, who was in the audience, said there have been many petitions and complaints submitted to NCIP since 2009. Many concerned the “questionable and improper procedures” undertaken during the FPIC process, but none were resolved by previous NCIP en banc commissions. Hence ATM considers the sudden issuance of a Certification Precondition as “highly irregular since the previous complaints and petitions have not been acted upon, much less resolved by NCIP itself.”

Stressed Garganera, during the stint of former Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Gina Lopez, the ATM has already raised the Tampakan-related issues that need to be resolved before proceeding with the proposed explorations. These included the questionable FPIC from the indigenous communities, and the ban of the local government on open-pit mining, the proposed mining process for the area.

Since the area is forested and mountainous, there is need to protect the forests and mountains above 1,000 meters.

They also raised legal issues arising from conflicting provisions of laws. According to them, the grant of a mining concession raises questions on what will happen to the agrarian reform beneficiaries covered by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, the irrigated lands protected under the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act, and the geo-hazard zones regulated under the Disaster Risk and Reduction Management Law.

The area covers critical river, lake and waterways, but no hydrology study has ever been conducted to establish impact to the water resources within and surrounding the area. The estimated water demand of the proposed Tampakan mine is greater than available water resources by the four watersheds, and will demand from other water systems, cautioned Garganera.

Also unclear were the guidelines NCIP used with regard to the FPIC process, as there were two guidelines, one released in 2006, and the other in 2012.

The residents have also been asking for the results of the Field-Based Investigation (FBI) done from 2008-2016 that reportedly were not given to the B’laan communities despite requests.

They also requested NCIP to disclose the full CP to all the five CADT holders and to resolve first all the en banc petitions and complaints lodged before it. As there were unresolved petitions and complaints, the CP should not have been issued, said ATM.

All interested parties are also wondering if there is any reglementary period covered by the different decisions on the mining project, especially since there are complaints on the many processes involved.

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