Militarization and mining, double disaster in Tampakan

An incessant military campaign has again escalated along the borders of South Cotabato, Davao del Sur, Sultan Kudarat and North Cotabato this year. The focused military campaigns were mounted in the said area by fascist forces of the 39th IB, 27th IB and 73rd IB under the 1002nd IBde of the AFP, and the Special Action Force and Regional Public Safety Battalion of the Philippine National Police Region 11 and 12 to pave the way for the resumption of operations of the Tampakan copper-gold project.

At least 12 military operations have been carried out by the AFP in the area since October 2018. Three of which were battalion operations, seven brigade operations and two division operations. These have been mounted since June. Two new military detachments were also put up to augment 54 existing detachments encircling the area.

Mining equipment and machineries were delivered to the mining site amid military operations. In November 2018, the Australian contractor Major Drilling Corporation (MDC) started its drilling activities in the area.

Destructive mining

Amid these military operations, several maneuvers were carried out by the company to dismantle remaining legal hindrances to its operations. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Agrarian Reform, and the pro-mining local government of Tampakan facilitated the reclassification of lands already distributed to beneficiaries under Certificates of Ancestral Domain Title and Certificates of Land Ownership Award. This sparked a rift between Lumads and settlers. The mining company also filed a court petition challenging the legality of the Local Environment Code of South Cotabato which prohibits open-pit mining arguing that local laws cannot supersede national laws such as the Mining Act of 1995.

The people’s arduous armed resistance compelled the mining company to stall its operation in 2014. The broad anti-mining campaign also compelled the multinational Glencore-Xstrata to divest in 2016. Eventually, the local government issued a resolusion banning open-pit mining. The US-Duterte regime, however, favored the resumption of mining operations and allowed the operation of companies owned by bourgeois compradors including Henry Sy, Jr. (SM Investment Corp.), David Consunji (SODACO), Manuel Pangilinan (Philex), Tomas Alcantara (SMI/Alsons Investmant), and Lucio Tan, Jr. (MRC Allied).

Australian multinational Indophil Resources NL, the largest stakeholder in the Tampakan project, currently operates in the area. Indophil was founded by former managers of the Western Mining Corporation (WMC). It owns a 40% stake in the Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI). San Miguel Corporation (SMC) and the Alcantara Group are among its major stockholders.

The Tampakan mine is a $5.9-billion project and has the largest reserve of gold and copper in Southeast Asia. The Xstrata-SMI reported that the mine has a total 2.4 billion tons of mineral deposits, 13.5 million tons of which are copper desposits and 15.8 million ounces of gold. It has the potential to yield an average of 375,000 tons of copper and 360,000 ounces of gold annually for 17 years.

Unwavering resistance

The reopening of the mine was met with staunch resistance by Lumads and the people of Southern Mindanao. In Kiblawan, Davao del Sur, B’laan residents burned down a drilling machine of the MDC early this year. In a mining forum held on September 13 at the Notre Dame of Marbel University in Koronadal City, Bishop Cerilo Casicas of the Diocese of Marbel vehemently denounced the open-pit mining and demanded a stop to the mining operations.

Anti-mining advocates are wary that the resumption of the project and the continuing martial law in Mindanao will result in intense human rights violations, reminiscent of the Capion massacre and the killing of Datu Anting Freay and activist Boy Billanes. The said victims were all murdered by the reactionary state for their stand against the Tampakan mining project.