06/12/2008, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Stop mining in Tampakan, threat to the environment, says Monsignor Gutierrez

by Santosh Digal
The bishop of Marbel and 50 priests from his diocese sign a letter challenging the legitimacy of mining operations that “seriously damage the agricultural sector and aquatic resources”, putting people’s lives at risk.

Cotabato (AsiaNews) – “Large Scale mining is not moral, fair or just,” said a statement released last Monday and signed by 50 priests and Mgr Dinualdo D. Gutierrez, the bishop in the diocese of Marbel. In it the clergymen call on Sagittarius Mines, Inc, and its predecessor, Western Mining Corp, both controlled by Swiss mining giant Xstrata Plc, to abandon plans to mine in Tampakan because of the risks they pose to the environment and human health. Tampakan is a municipality in the province of South Cotabato, on Mindanao Island, well-known for its mineral deposits.

“It is grievously immoral to extract precious mineral deposits from a Third World country like the Philippines, and seriously damage the agricultural sector and aquatic resources to serve the needs of highly developed countries like China and India,” the statement said.

Bishop Gutierrez said that he is not against development per se, but insisted that it should not come at the expense of the environment.

Global warming, climate change and food shortages are presently the immediate threats to human existence. Large scale mining activities never address but rather aggravate these threats,” the statement said.

Sagittarius Mines, Inc., controlled by Swiss-based Xstrata Plc., is currently conducting extended exploration activities in Tampakan as a prelude to full-scale mining operations by 2012. It plans to extract over two billion tonnes in mineral ore, including copper and gold.

The mining development area covers over 20,000 hectares of forest lands and is in the middle of a watershed area. It could reduce water resources that are essential to people and agriculture, leaving thousands of farmers and fishermen with no means to earn a living.

Meanwhile, Fr Romeo Catedral, director of the diocese’s social action center, reported that members of the provincial board have received pressures from government officials to allow open pit mining operation in South Cotabato. 

Pro-mining groups, especially Xstrata-SMI, are behind these pressures; their goal is have the ban on open pit mining lifted.

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