June 8, 2012
His Excellency Benigno Simeon C. Aquino, III
President of the Republic of the Philippines
New Executive Building, Malacañang Palace
J.P. Laurel St., San Miguel, Manila
We are gratified that Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI)/XStrata has been denied environmental clearance for the second time for its controversial $ 5.9 billion project straddling South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Davao del Sur and Saranggani. The disapproval, “without prejudice to resubmission” (DENR order dated May 22, 2011), in my view, should be final and absolute. The disapproval should not just be based on the standing ordinance of South Cotabato against open-pit mining, but on appreciation of the incontrovertible information that has emerged on the impacts of the project on the environment and the people of Mindanao.
Several conferences, fora and fact-finding missions have concluded many reasons to reject the Tampakan Mine Project. Let me briefly enumerate some of these risks the mine poses to our human, ecological and cultural heritage:
• THE BIGGEST HOLE IN THE PHILIPPINES WILL POISON RIVERS.
Slated to become the biggest mine in the Philippines, the Tampakan Mine of SMI/Xstrata covers 10,000 hectares, destroying in its lifetime 4,000 hectares of water catchment forests, including old-growth forests. It risks polluting the water source of communities depending for their livelihoods on six rivers. The biggest river system, the Mal River, will be most polluted as many streams in its catchment will be destroyed and replaced by the tailings dam, which will devastate fisheries and will harm irrigated crops downstream in Davao del Sur, in the event of a dam failure. The Philippines needs more than ever to protect its water catchment if it is going to feed its expanding population and the apocalyptic Climate Change forecast of PAGASA showing a decreased rate of rainfall in Mindanao, the country’s food basket. (data from Goodland and Wicks, “Philippines: Mining or Food?”, 2006)
• THE 10,000-HECTARE PROPOSED MINE SITE IS ALIVE AND TEEMING WITH BIO-DIVERSITY.
SMI threatens a total of 812 flora species, 247 (30%) are Philippine endemics and 52 (6%) are mainland Mindanao endemics. 55 species are under the Threatened Species list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. For amphibians and reptiles alone, 28% are Philippine endemics, 18% are Mindanao endemics and 20% are Greater Mindanao endemics (data from the Environmental Impact Study of SMI).
• MINDANAO IS A CONFLICT ZONE. Precisely because of the unstable peace and order condition in the Tampakan site and surrounding areas, SMI facilities have been attacked, burned and partly destroyed on several occasions by aggrieved parties. This area is among the most militarized areas in south central Mindanao today. On the pretext of “clearing the areas of subversive elements,” the Philippine Armed Forces with the CAFGUs have continuously launched military campaigns in that area, intensifying the conflict between Anti- and Pro- mining B’laans and instigating fear and terror in the communities, as documented by the Fact-Finding Mission conducted on April 25 and 26, 2012 by the Social Action Center of the diocese of Marbel.
• THE TAMPAKAN MINE IS A MAJOR THREAT TO FOOD SECURITY. Agriculture is the dominant economic activity in Davao del Sur and South Cotabato. The open-pit mining method would create massive disturbance to the environmental ecosystem currently protecting the water catchments supplying water irrigation and drinking water to Koronadal. Failure of the 500-hectare tailings dam (a real possibility due to earthquake fault lines crossing the site or the eruption of Mt. Matutum, an active volcano, which is 12 kilometers away) would kill people and damage watershed and irrigation infrastructures that support Mindanao’s food basket. There are 80,000 farmers farming 200,000 hectares in South Cotabato valley alone, relying on the river systems and water catchments of the surrounding mountains; SMI/Xstrata admits in their EIS that they will impact six (6) river systems. Scientists also project that several aquifers will also be contaminated. (from Goodland and Wicks, “Philippines: Mining or Food?”, 2006)
In finally rejecting SMI/Xstrata of this particular project, I believe that you are not breaking faith with these foreign investors. The project, from the very beginning was conditioned on the investors showing that it could be implemented without serious environmental and social impacts. Otherwise, why else would Environmental Clearance be required? Their assumption in making their investments, no matter how big or small, was that they could prove the environmental soundness of their project. If through the intervening environmental impact studies (by DENR itself, or by private institutions like NGOs, Academe and Church) it has been demonstrated that the impacts would be disastrous, the President must recognize this and draw the necessary conclusion. In this case, DENR itself must come to the defense of the environment and protect the interests of the Filipino people, living now and the generations yet to come.
For these reasons, I appeal that the Tampakan Mine Project of SMI/Xstrata be disapproved with finality. The disapproval should not be based on the conflict of the national (RA 7942) and provincial (South Cotabato Ordinance No. 4-2010) laws alone, but in the context of social justice and the correlate principle of the common good – the shared human good where relationships to God, to human beings and the environment are honored and respected even in our economic pursuits.
Sincerely in our Lord,
Fr. Joel E. Tabora, SJ