By JULMUNIR I. JANNARAL
TAMPAKAN, South Cotabato
A mining outfit that has not even started extracting copper since its inception in 1995 has since planted more than a million trees around the sites where it is to operate.
Documents obtained by Philippine Muslim Today (PMT) from local officials in Tampakan, South Cotabato; in Malungon, Sarangani; in Kiblawan, Davao del Sur; and in Columbio, Sultan Kudarat indicated that the Sagittarius Mines, Inc., or SMI, had hit as early as 2017 its target of planting a million trees in the four towns.
While the SMI has not even mined for copper and gold yet in upland areas in the four towns through its “Tampakan Project,” it has spent in recent years P200 million for environment-protection, infrastructure, education and livelihood projects for indigenous Blaan and non-Blaan settler communities.
Key Blaan tribal leaders, among them Bae Dalena Samling of the community council in Barangay Danlag in Tampakan, confirmed to PMT that the SMI had, along with community-based partners, planted in the past 15 years no fewer than a million forest and fruit tree seedlings in the hinterlands where it plans to operate.
Samling and other officials of the Blaan tribal councils and leaders of settler Cebuano and Ilonggo communities in Tampakan, Malungon, Kiblawan and Columbio towns have been vocal in expressing favor for the planned operation of SMI.
The National Commission on Indigenous People permitted in September 2020, on behalf of the Blaan communities in the four towns, the SMI’s planned extraction of copper and gold in their tribal domains in the context of self-determination based on the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act, or the Republic Act 8371.
The SMI, as of July 2017, already planted 1.1 million trees in the four towns through its “Mele to kayu,” or Let us plant trees project, according to reports obtained from field personnel of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Region 12.
Updates on SMI’s tree-planting project are reported periodically to the mayors and the municipal planning and development coordinators of LGUs in the copper-rich municipalities, according to the DENR.
SMI officials said the Mele to kayu project complements the National Greening Program of the DENR.
Municipal officials said the SMI has a nursery that can produce 500,000 forest and orchard tree seedlings every 12 months.
Local officials told the the Media that the mining firm and its community partners have reforested 463 hectares of contiguous lands in the copper-rich Tampakan, Malungon, Kiblawan and Columbio towns in recent years. JIJ