MANILA, Philippines — A battle between farmers and Sagittarius Mines, the operator of the copper-gold mine set to open in southern Mindanao in 2016, is looming over water resources in the lush, mineral-rich province of Davao del Sur.
Farmers and an irrigators’ association in Davao del Sur and Davao City have asked the Aquino administration to stop the $6-billion open pit mine project, saying it would destroy the watershed that feeds into 13,000 hectares of mostly-rice farmlands downstream.
The complaint of the farmers was confirmed by Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, who was asked by the farmers recently to halt the massive project. “Farmers are against the Tampakan project. I think they will not let this push through,” Alcala said.
A resolution made by the Davao del Sur and Davao City Federation of Irrigators’ Association that was submitted to the Department of Agriculture and the Office of the President said the national and communal irrigation system of Davao del Sur would face “environmental destruction” from the open pit mine and various mining facilities that would be built to support it.
Davao del Sur is an agricultural basket and one of the rice-producing provinces in Mindanao. The irrigators’ association said their rice production would be threatened by the mining project.
More than 13,000 farmer-irrigators are very much dependent on water resources of the rivers, considering that water is the life-blood of our rice farmers,” the group said in the resolution.
If our watershed will be damaged due to this open pit mining operations, we are certain that the Road Map to Rice Self-Sufficiency from year 2011-2016, which is one of the major components under the present administration will not be achieved,” the resolution read. The Aquino administration has been aiming to make the Philippines produce enough rice for its population so that the government could halt the costly importation of rice, the Filipinos’ main staple.
Nestor Rama, president of the group, said the tailings and chemicals used in the processing of the minerals could contaminate the water flowing from the Mal River to downstream.
Leogene Bangahon, another farmer-irrigator, said the location of the mining area, as well as the use of the open pit method, could wipe out the watersheds in the mountains.
“Once you destroy a mountain, it’s gone,” he said. “If the source of our water is gone, we will not be able to plant,” he added.
The Sagittarius Mines project is a joint venture among Xstrata Copper, Indophil Resourcs NL and Tampakan Group of Companies. The companies’ $5.9-billion investment in the copper-gold mine is considered to be the largest single foreign direct investment in the Philippines.
The Tampakan mining site straddles four provinces in Southern Mindanao. The proposed mine site covers 10,000 hectares and is located between the towns of Tampakan, South Cotabato and Kiblawan, Davao del Sur.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resourcs has yet to issue an environmental clearance certificate (ECC) for the project following the ban on open pit mining by the provincial government of South Cotabato.
Agriculture officials have confirmed that the area where the mine project is located has large-scale irrigation facilities and a major river system. Antonio Nangel, NIA administrator, said the government has spent P250 million for the irrigation system in Mal River.
Alcala said the complaints from farmers and irrigators in other mining areas have compelled them to include a provision in the new mining regulations being drafted by the government. “There should be no mining in areas where there are established agricultural facilities. Prime agricultural land should also be exempt,” he said in an interview.
Davao del Sur is part of Region XI, a highly mineralized area in Southern Mindanao. The region is home to large-scale and small-scale mining operations, as well as vast plantations of rice, bananas, and pineapples. Over the years, the region’s rice output has declined. According to data from the National Irrigation Administration, Region XI produced 427,184 metric tons of rice in 2007. In 2010, paddy yield dropped to 402,111 metric tons.
A spokesman from Sagittarius Mines said the project would not contaminate agricultural land in the area.
John Arnaldo of SMI said: “SMI confirms and guarantees that no mining activities are proposed to be undertaken in any prime agricultural lands.”
He added that the company would build a fresh water dam to mitigate any impact on water supply downstream.
“If the project is approved, we would construct a freshwater storage dam to collect water that is excess to current downstream agricultural requirements during the wet times of the year, which would then be used during the dry times when river water levels are low,” he said.
“This will lead to increases in rice production and farmer’s incomes as well as provide an opportunity for an improved equitable distribution of irrigation water,” Arnaldo said.