DIGOS CITY – Members of an environmental fact-finding team hit the National Government for allowing foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines Inc. to operate the Tampakan copper-gold project.

Meggy Nolasco, national spokesperson of the Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment, blamed the easy entry of the mining firm to the government's failure to provide basic social services.

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"Essentially, those who embraced the mining project did so because of the failure of the government to provide basic social services such as education, health and road networks." said Nolasco.

"Many of the tribesmen within the mining area are not really aware of the negative impact of the Tampakan project. There's actually no real social acceptability of the project," she claimed.

In a press conference here Saturday, the environmental investigators presented the findings of their two-day mission in the Tampakan project.

The group composed of experts and foreign volunteers visited two sites of the mining project -- Columbio in Sultan Kudarat and Malalag in Davao del Sur -- on Thursday and Friday.

Columbio is part of the Sagittarius Mines Inc.'s development site while Malalag is being eyed by the company as host of its coal-fired plant to run the mining project once it goes into commercial operation by 2016.

Catherine Abon, a geologist from the Advocates of Science and Technology for Peace, said the operation of Sagittarius Mines, which intends to extract deposits using open-pit method, poses tremendous risks to water sources.

"It would not only pollute [rivers] but will eventually vanish the sources of ground water in the mountains," she said, adding that livelihood in the farming sector will also suffer if the company will be allowed to proceed with the operation.

John Arnaldo, Sagittarius corporate communications manager, could not be contacted for comments as of this posting Sunday.

But in earlier statements, the company claimed it is welcomed by the communities in the mining site because of the economic and social benefits the project will bring.

Sagittarius Mines Inc. has sponsored thousands of scholars in all school levels, conducted medical missions, and employed tribesmen in their labor force.

Arnaldo earlier said the mining firm is also conducting extensive studies to minimize the impact of the mining project to the environment.

Sagittarius Mines is controlled by Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer, with Australian firm Indophil Resources NL as the minority equity holder.

Touted as the largest undeveloped copper deposit in Southeast Asia, the Tampakan project has the potential to yield 13.5 million tons of copper and 15.8 million ounces of gold, according to the company's latest study. (Bong S. Sarmiento of Sun.Star Davao/Sunnex)