Mindanao local seeks Brits' help to fight mining giant

By Patrick Camara Ropeta, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau

Posted at Nov 13 2014 10:35 AM | Updated as of Nov 13 2014 08:44 PM

Mindanao local seeks Brits' help to fight mining giant 1
Mark Lopez spoke against the Tampakan Mining Project in Mindanao alongside other activists from Colombia, Indonesia, and the UK

LONDON - Mark Lopez has come a long way to save his community from one of the largest multinational companies in the world, which he claims is ruining Filipino lives in pursuit of gold.

Lopez gave a series of talks in England about the plight of local communities affected by the Tampakan mining project in South Cotabato, set to become the largest open-pit mine in the Philippines.

Anglo-Swiss corporation Glencore-Xstrata has a controlling stake in the project, operated locally by Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI), which has been accused of funding local military operations linked to alleged human rights violations against local opposition.

“Tampakan is highly militarized. We are harassed by the military after we have community forums and focus group discussions,” said Lopez.

According to British campaign group War On Want, 10 indigenous people have been allegedly murdered in connection to the Tampakan mining project since 2010, including the Capion massacre in 2012 - which was dismissed in court for insufficient evidence against the accused military - and the shooting of clan chief Anteng Freay and his son in 2013.

“Filipinos in the area are scared because of the military paid by Glencore. This is a culture of impunity, where we know the people responsible and yet the Philippine government is doing nothing,” said Lopez.

It is for this reason that the Mindanao-native has taken their battle to London, the financial hub of the international mining industry including, Glencore-Xstrata.

Lopez and other activists, including the Campaign for Human Rights in the Philippines (CHRP) and Philippine Indigenous Peoples Links (PIPLinks), are calling for an investigation over the Tampakan project, with particular emphasis on its human and environmental costs.

They are urging the international community to learn about the issues, and to put pressure not only on Glencore, but also on the national governments of Britain and the Philippines.

“This is a part that these companies are repeating all around the world. And it’s vital that we as British people understand how we are involved in that,” said Patrick Kane from War On Want, which made a video called “Stop Glencore’s Deadly Mine” as part of a wider campaign.

He explained: “Here in London we have some of the largest mining corporations in the world. Many of them raise money via the London Stock Exchange, so it is very important that people are aware of just what a role London is playing in the human rights violations which these companies are committing against communities all around the world.”

“Complex history of regional conflict”

Glencore-Xstrata denies any wrongdoing in the Tampakan mining project.

In an official statement given to ABS-CBN Europe, the company said “Glencore and its subsidiaries do not condone violence in any form.”

It also highlighted the “long and complex history of regional conflict” in Mindanao which existed before the mining project, including threats from guerrilla group New People’s Army (NPA).

However, the company admitted it contributed funds towards a local military operation called Community-based Peace and Security Program (CPSP), but only at the request of the local government in response to rebel attacks in 2008.

“As a major investor in the area, SMI was requested by the local government to provide support for certain activities related to the CPSP. The local government applied SMI funds toward food allowances, as well as fuel and first aid supplies, for those units to provide public security in the local government areas in which the project is located,” the statement said.

Glencore added that as of 2013, the company has “ceased funding” of CPSP when “provincial government units assumed full responsibility over the management of peace, order and security in the area.”

Furthermore, the company insisted it has plans in place to ensure the welfare of the local community and environment, from consultations throughout the development process, to infrastructure projects and relocation programs.

Amid fierce opposition from several groups in Britain and the Philippines, Glencore also claims to have enough support from 131 stakeholder groups, including 11 local councils and chieftains, 34 barangays, 22 business groups and seven regional government bodies.

Benefits and costs

According to the Centre for International Economics in 2011, the project has the potential to bring “substantial long-term contribution to the Philippine economy.”

As a result, however, it is likely to have adverse effects on the local environment including rainforests and rivers. The area is also home to 1,500 households with 5,000 indigenous people, who will all be displaced from the land of their ancestors.

For this reason, there is currently a ban against open-pit mining in the area set by the local government to protect its people and natural resources.

“The provincial government enacted a law banning open-pit mining because this technology is very destructive. It really drains mountains and forests and pollutes our water resources,” said Clemente Bautista from Kalikasan People’s Network, who travelled with Lopez to speak out against the Tampakan project.

He added: “Our government’s mining policy has been around for a long time. The Philippine Mining Act of 1995 allows foreign companies to enter the country and own local minerals, but all it’s given us is the destruction of communities and the killings of activists. Even government data show that contribution of mining is not that significant to our economy.”

The Philippine Mining Act of 1995 was implemented in 1997 to stimulate the local mining industry and develop the country’s rich deposit of gold, copper and nickel.

According to the Philippine Mines and Geosciences Bureau, local mineral resources are worth 850 billion US dollars, and are primarily exported to Japan, Australia, Canada and China.

But a report from the Philippine Statistics Authority revealed that mining contribution to the economy has been “nothing spectacular” despite a boost from the mining act.

From 1998 to 2010, mining had the lowest overall contribution to the total economy, only averaging at 0.9 percent of the total GDP, in comparison to sectors like manufacturing, the largest contributor with 23.5 percent, followed by trade with 16.2 percent.

However, the report also points out that the only substantial economic benefit of mining comes from gold - more than half of the Tampakan project - which is a “major source of the country’s much-needed foreign exchange earnings from metallic exports.”

In recent years, the Philippine government has been trying to improve the mining sector with the aim of reaping more benefits from the country’s mineral resources.

In 2012, President Benigno Aquino III issued Executive Order No. 79 which updated its taxation policies in the mining sector. It also cut down the duration of mining contracts from 50 years to 25.

A senate policy briefing said the order seeks to “strengthen the protection of the environment, promote responsible mining, and provide a more equitable revenue-sharing scheme amid the projected boom in the sector.”

From 2014, under new laws, the government stands to take at least 50 percent of the industry’s net revenue, up from a meagre two percent as originally set in 1995.

As the debate continues, justice remains elusive for slain victims in Tampakan, in which Glencore-Xstrata allegedly played a part according to Lopez and other activists.

“It is the corporate responsibility of Glencore to look at all these issues. They must be held accountable for these things that are happening in Tampakan,” Lopez insisted.

The Tampakan mining project covers 10,000 hectares of land containing 15 million tons of copper and 17.6 million ounces of gold, situated on the boundaries of South Cotabato, Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat, and Davao del Sur.

And despite a local ban on large-scale open-pit mining, the USD5.9-billion project is expected to go ahead on the basis of its economic benefits, reportedly worth an estimated one percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) per year of operations.

But some are asking: at what cost?