Catholic bishops in Central Mindanao are gearing to fight the mining operation of an Australian-owned firm in Tampakan, South Cotabato.
Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez of the Diocese of Marbel, South Cotabato; Bishop Jimmy Afable of the Diocese of Digos, Davao del Sur, and Bishop Ronaldo Valles of the Diocese of Kidapawan, North Cotabato, have joined forces to stop the open-pit copper and gold mining operation of Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) at the boundary of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Davao del Sur provinces.
Rev. Romeo Catedral, spokesperson of the Diocese of Marbel, said the three bishops will launch a series of protest rallies to oppose the mining operations of SMI.
The bishops had earlier led some 8,000 protesters who staged a rally in front of the SMI office in Tampakan town during the Earth Day celebration to oppose SMI's mining operations and called for the repeal of the Mining Act of 1995.
"The antimining campaign will continue especially now that the three bishops have made their united call against SMI's mining operations and the repeal of the Mining Act in order to preserve our environment," Catedral said.
He said the bishops formed a special joint secretariat tasked to organize protest actions to pressure SMI to abandon its project before large-scale operations will commence in 2008.
The SMI has been conducting exploratory activities within its mining concession area believed to have contained the largest gold and copper deposits in the world.
Gutierrez assailed officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for assuring the public that SMI will not destroy the environment even if it will engage in open-pit mining.
"There is no such thing as responsible mining in open-pit mining. SMI could not replenish the damage it might cause to our environment," Gutierrez said.
Tampakan Mayor Claudius Barroso, however, played down the protest actions, saying the protesters were not from his town but from other areas which are not covered by the SMI's proposed mining sites.
He said SMI has been allocating some P9.3 million yearly for environmental and social projects in the locality.
Afable said they will coordinate with other environment groups to help them in their campaign against SMI's large-scale mining operations.
He said the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines will ask Congress to repeal the controversial Mining Act of 1995, which allows foreigners to engage in mining operations in the country.
Rolando Doria, SMI community project officer, said the mining firm had already invested some P40 million for its environmental protection program.
- 183 Environment