Mayor claims Church backing sustains armed group vs SMI
DIGOS CITY—The mayor of a town that would host facilities to be used for what is touted to be one of the biggest gold mines in the world accused Catholic priests of supporting members of a tribal community who are waging an armed struggle against the mining operations.
The charge was quickly denied by leaders of the Church in South Cotabato, where the Australian firm Xstrata, one of the biggest mining companies in the world, wants to operate the Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI).
SMI seeks to extract billions of dollars worth of gold buried in Tampakan, a town in South Cotabato, in operations that critics said would displace communities of the B’laan tribe in the three provinces [South Cotabato, Davao del Sur and Sultan Kudarat] that will be affected by the mining operation covering at least 24,717 hectares.
Marivic Diamante, mayor of Kiblawan, Davao del Sur, said she received reports that some priests in South Cotabato are supporting armed B’laan natives who have launched armed attacks on SMI targets, including the firm’s security officers.
SMI holds a Financial Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA), government jargon for a permit to clear land to be used as sites for tailings ponds and other mining facilities. It hasn’t acquired an environmental clearance certificate or a Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA), which is a permit to actually start digging.
Diamante said while she was verifying whether it was true that Church people were supporting violent opposition to SMI by some members of the B’laan tribe, “I am greatly dismayed.”
The mayor quoted her informants as saying priests in the Diocese of Marbel, which covers the main mining site in Tampakan, are supplying food to the armed tribe members.
Fr. Joy Pelino, head of the Social Action Center of the Marbel diocese, said the reports being cited by the mayor were just “products of her wild imagination.”
According to Mayor Diamante, priests in the diocese are directly aiding members of the B’laan community led by the brothers Capion—Dagil, Kitara and Batas—who are allegedly behind a series of armed attacks on SMI and other targets associated with the mining operations.
The group led by the Capions were tagged main suspects in the killing about two weeks ago of Villamendo Hectin, a retired policeman hired by SMI as security consultant.
Diamante said the armed members of the B’laan tribe, whom she called bandits, survive in the mountains with the direct help of supporters that included Church leaders.
Fr. Pelino, however, said the Church does not select which group should receive aid. He said the Church did supply rice to members of the tribe who are antimining, particularly those living in Bong Mal, a village in Tampakan that would disappear from the map if mining operations there proceed. Orlando Dinoy and Aquiles Zonio, Inquirer Mindanao