eastwind journals 03

eastwind journals are the personal journalistic writings of Bernie Lopez, and are not part of the healing ministry. Any views or comments are his own and does not reflect those of the ministry.


By Bernie Lopez
Advance copy of ‘eastwind journals’ column
Opinyon magazine, November 7, 2011


This is an open letter to President Aquino and Peter Forrestal, President of Sagittarius Mining, Inc. (SMI), a sequel to my previous  column on the possible link in the murder of Fr. Tentorio to the Xstrata mining project in Tampakan, South Cotabato.
The Xstrata project in Tampakan will be, if you approved it, Mr. President, the largest mining project in Philippines history and one of the largest worldwide, with a staggering 10,000-hectare mine site, equivalent to 5,000 football fields. Xstrata is a British-Swiss multinational which is in partnership with the local Sagittarius Mining Inc. (SMI).


Dear President Aquino, I would like to inform you of a potential for an environmental mega-disaster never before experienced in our history, if you approve the operating license of Xstrata-SMI. Many foreign environmentalists have given warnings.


Correct me if my data is wrong, Mr. Forrestal. The statistics of the Tampakan mine project is mind-boggling. Its proposed tailings dam has a capacity of 1.1 billion metric tons (MT) of toxic waste, with a second dam for pure waste rock of another 1.6 billion MT. They sit at the mountain top at an altitude that violates the maximum allowed by the DENR. The tailings dam alone covers a shocking 1,350 hectares, equivalent to 700 football fields. It is 180 meters tall, the equivalent of an eight-story building.


If these dams break, it may trigger a localized famine, affecting about 100,000 hectares of lush farmlands (pessimistic calculation) nourishing 1.2 million people in four provinces of two regions, at the very the heart of Mindanao’s bread basket. That mega-disaster will make the Marcopper disaster look like a backyard affair.


What are the chances of a ‘world-class’ tailings dam bursting? The Tampaka site sits directly underneath a sub-fault along the main South Cotabato fault line, a mere 20 kilometers away. This main fault line connects to the Negros and Sulu trenches. British consultant to the International Union for the Conservation of the Nature (IUCN), Clive Wicks, reported 74 earthquakes near the Tampaka area from February 2005 to October 2008, an average of 3.5 a month, 17 of which, or 23%, had a magnitude of 5 or more on the Richter scale.


Mr. Forrestal, Xstrata-SMI, in various scoping sessions, claims the dams are state-of-the-art in terms of safety standards, and your Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) ‘guarantees’ their safety. But Mr. Wicks argues that 33 such ‘world class’ dams have failed worldwide, 17 in the U.S.


Mr. President and Mr. Forrestal, I would like to ask if you are willing to take the responsibility for a possible mega-disaster in Tampakan. Can you both guarantee the safety of millions of lives? You are answerable to the Filipino people. Mr. Forrestal, will your company be able to pay for such massive unquantifiable damage in billions, which Marcopper failed to do in a much-smaller disaster? Mr. Wicks says the pollution of aquifers, or underground water is irreversible precisely because they are underground.


Mr. Forrestal, we realize the awesome influence of Xstrata on our jurisprudence, hinted by SMI’s extreme confidence that, in spite of an existing South Cotabato ban on open pit mining, you go ahead with your plans, believing you can make us change their minds. I understand this confidence in the light of the Supreme Court reversing an earlier decision declaring the FTAA contract with SMI as unconstitutional.


Mr. Forrestal, your message in SMI’s EIA Summary reads “…our commitment to working openly with all stakeholders and invite them …”. This statement contradicts reports that Xstrata-SMI has bulldozed B’laan sacred burial grounds and cornfields. Also, Mr. Wicks cites a big flaw in your EIA as you have excluded potentially-affected communities outside the mine site as stakeholders. SMI engineers in fact warned of grave risks at Tampakan as stated in your very EIA, which you ignore.


You further write, “… this Project will be a blueprint for ethical modern mineral development … including best practices …”. Mr. Wicks comments that best practices in mining are often bad practices, with dozens of the best tailings dams bursting. Marbel Bishop Guttierez is questioning your claim of ‘ethical mineral development’. The bishops at CBCP are calling for a moratorium on mining based on moral, social and environmental grounds.


Mr. Forrestal, you further write, “a step-change toward sustainable economic development and growth for the people of southern Mindanao.” The IUCN says sustainable development is never true for the mining industry. Will the trickle you give our government, a few thousand employees, the beneficiaries of your social development programs with “substantial support for community infrastructure development, improved access to education and health facilites and services, safeguarding of cultural values, institutional capacity building, and enterprise development” make up for such a mega-disaster that may destroy our agricultural economy on a massive scale?


Of what use are learned students if they will be victims of this disaster? Are you ‘safeguarding cultural values’ when locals report that Xstrata-SMI has split the tribal communities into pro- and anti-mining factions, letting the pros create their own pseudo-chieftain and pseudo-People’s Organization that you support? Of what use are your health facilities if toxic arsenic-laden mud will one day flow from the mountain top when you are all gone with your profits? Are these just rhetoric to get social consent? Is the corporate responsibility you articulate? We beg for an answer, Mr. Forrestal.


Mr. President, the people of Mindanao are clamoring for you to abrogate the license of this powerful and influential multinational. Can you do it for them? redgate7@gmail.com


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