Philippines: Indigenous Oppose Tampakan Copper And Gold Mine


On her recent visit to Australia, Sister Mary Francis Anover, National Coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), highlighted the plight of the indigenous people that she and members of her order live and work with in the Philippines.

Sister Francis concentrated on the effects that the proposed Tampakan open pit copper and gold mine is having on the B’laan people of South Cotabato, in the southern Philippines province of Mindanao.

Discovered in 1992, the Tampakan project is operated by Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI), in which a 40 per cent controlling equity is a joint venture between Indophil (37.5 percent) and project manager Glencore (formerly Glencore Xtrata – 62.5 percent).

According to an overview of the project given on Indophil’s website, Tampakan is the largest undeveloped copper and gold deposit in South East Asia.

In its 2013 Annual Report, Indophil states that the site has an estimated 15 million tonnes of copper and 17.6 million ounces of gold.

Over the initial 17 years of production it is estimated that the mine will produce 375,000 tonnes of copper and 360,000 ounces of gold per annum.

The project is still in its exploration phase and has not yet been approved.

Members of the Catholic Church in Mindanao are prominent in the ongoing fight against the mine, many seeing it both as an issue of social justice and one of stewardship of the planet and the people who currently reside in the areas to be mined.

In March, 23 Bishops from Mindanao signed a letter to the President of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino III, voicing their opposition to the mine.

Their listed reasons included

• the destruction of almost 4,000 hectares of forested and agricultural land and its biodiversity
• the dislocation of almost 6,000 people, mainly B’laans, from their ancestral land; and
• past killings and future violence as the B’laans defend their ancestral land.

Bishop Dinualdo D. Gutierrez, Bishop of Marbel, one of the signatories to the letter, told New Matilda that the indigenous people support the church in its stance.

He said that the B’laans of Bong Mal Territory in Tampakan have prohibited anyone from destroying their ancestral land, which is the source of their livelihood.

He said that the late Dr. Robert Goodland, a consultant to the World Bank on extractive industries, who visited Tampakan several times, said that there is no safe way to mine at Tampakan.

The mine is located in an area of high seismic activity and a major watershed area.

Justin Hillier, Executive Vice President of SMI said: “The open pit mining method is an internationally accepted method and, based on SMI’s feasibility study, is the safety-preferred and economically-feasible method for the Tampakan deposit.”

Sister Francis spoke of the October 2012 killing of activist, Juvy Capion, wife of B’laan leader and vocal opponent of the mine, Daguil Capion.

Juvy Capion was pregnant at the time, and their two sons, aged 7 and 13 were killed. Their five-year-old daughter was wounded when soldiers from the 27th infantry battalion strafed their home while they were sleeping.

The army claimed that they were chasing Mr Capion to serve a warrant for his arrest over the 2010 ambush of three construction workers at the mine.

They said that they were responding to gunshots, something that is disputed by witnesses and Mr Capion, who says that he was not in his house at the time, but sleeping 200m away.

In August 2013, the office of the provincial prosecutor in Davao del Sur, dismissed a murder complaint filed against the soldiers by Juvy Capion’s father, Sukim Malid, saying that there was insufficient evidence to “establish probably cause”.

Some B’laan see the proposed mine’s existence as beneficial to them and to their community, and others see a loss of life and culture, and a division of families and friends.

The B’laan who oppose the mine, are seen by many outside their community as bandits.

However, at a legislative inquiry in Koronadal, South Cotabato on February 21, 2013 into the killing of Juvy Capion and her children, Representative Teddy Bauilat said: “Let us differentiate a criminal act from an act in the conduct of defending rights”.

That is how many others, both in the Philippines and around the world, view the stance of the B’laan and other indigenous people who are fighting big mining ventures on their ancestral lands.

In 2010 the South Cotabato local government enacted a Provincial Environmental Code which banned open pit mining in the Province.

However the company continued work on the permitting and approval phase of its program, which included exploratory work and community resettlement meetings. 

The publication of Presidential Executive Order 79 in July 2012 seems to have brought into question the effectiveness of the local government’s ban.

Section 12 of the Executive Order (EO) mentions the need for consistency between local ordinances, the constitution and national laws.

Mr Hillier told New Matilda: “It is this requirement of consistency, mandated and required by E0 79, that we believe, plays a key role in any further discussion on not only the current open-pit ban in the province of South Cotabato (where the Tampakan deposit is located), but also on future local mining ordinances in the Philippines.”

Other questions on the mine’s continued operation also depend on Glencore’s plan to divest its investment in Tampakan.

When Glencore and Xtrata announced their intention to merge in 2012, they had to meet regulatory requirements in Europe, South Africa and China. 

The Chinese Ministry of Commerce felt that the merger would limit market competition for copper, lead and zinc concentrate, and imposed conditions on the merger which included the sale of Xtrata’s copper project in Peru, Las Bambas. 

At the time Glencore also announced its intention to divest its investment in Tampakan.

In April, the company announced that it had agreed to sell Las Bambas to a consortium led by Australian-based, Chinese owned MMG Ltd, which is part of the state owned China Minmetals Corp.

China accounts for 40 per cent of world copper demand.

According to MMG CEO, Andrew Michelmore, over 2 million tonnes of copper concentrate will be produced in Las Bambas first five years of operation.

Mr Hillier told New Matilda that Glencore had committed to a 2014 work program which would see SMI continue to engage with the National Government and other stakeholders to the point where the Philippine Government could approve SMI’s Declaration of Mining Feasibility (DMF).

This in turn would allow funding shareholders to consider a Final Investment Decision, which would be needed before any construction work could begin.

“Approval of SMI’s DMF would require local government endorsement and ‘free and prior informed consent’ of the indigenous cultural communities in accordance with Philippine law.”

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.