Tribes submit to South Cotabato SP demand for lifting of mining ban

KORONADAL CITY, Philippines — Ethnic Blaan and T’boli leaders submitted Friday to the South Cotabato provincial board a strongly-worded petition for its members to lift a local open-pit mining ban.

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The petition was signed by tribal leaders wishing, for two decades now, to extract no less than €5.8 billion (Euro currency) worth of copper deposits, based on estimates of foreign geologists, in Blaan ancestral lands in Tampakan, South Cotabato.

The petition is essential to the on-going review by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) of a provincial environment code that outlawed open-pit mining in South Cotabato.

The review is premised on mounting clamors of thousands of residents of Tampakan and nearby towns in South Cotabato and in the provincial capital, Koronadal City, to have the provincial ordinance lifted.

The petition, signed by tribal chieftains from across South Cotabato, was endorsed Friday to the SP by Domingo Collado and Bae Salena Samling.

Collado is Tampakan’s indigenous people’s mandatory representative while Samling is from an influential bloc of Blaan women who wants the open-pit mining ban invalidated.

The on-going review for weeks now of the provincial anti-open pit mining ban is being presided over by Hilario de Pedro, a senior SP member.

De Pedro last week lamented what he described as interference by leaders of the Catholic Church in the province on the review process via threats to campaign against them, if they seek reelection in 2022, once the ordinance gets lifted.

“We are doing our work here correctly, fairly and sensibly,” De Pedro said in a closing statement after an SP hearing last week.

Tampakan is an ancestral land of the Blaans whose right to utilize natural resources obtainable in their tribal domains is guaranteed by the Indigenous People’s Rights Act, or IPRA, according to Collado.

The IPRA, also known as the Republic Act 8371, provides indigenous people the right to self-determination and autonomy in managing community affairs in their ancestral domains.

Blaan and T’boli tribal chieftains are ranting on the opposition of Catholic Church leaders to any mining operation in Tampakan.

Datu Edmund Ugal, a T’boli, from T’boli town in South Cotabato, said they are so annoyed by the opposition to any mining activity in Tampakan by outsiders who cannot even help address the grinding poverty, illiteracy and underdevelopment in Blaan enclaves in the municipality.

“There is a hostage here — the peace and socio-economic empowerment of the Blaans in Tampakan, Ugal said.

Meanwhile, Teduray tribal leaders in Maguindanao, among them Romy Saliga, said any opposition to the wishes of Blaans and T’bolis are best discussed in the South Cotabato SP.

“What we can say is that we have the IPRA, or Republic Act 8371, for us, the indigenous people, next to the Holy Bible. It can be used as reference in addressing that demand of the indigenous people in South Cotabato,” Saliga said.

Saliga, who is from Maguindanao province, is representing the non-Moro Teduray community in the interim parliament of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Saliga said the IPRA provides indigenous communities autonomy to decide on how to harness the natural resources, including forests and waterways, in ancestral lands for the tribes to achieve socio-economic empowerment.



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