SMI drill contractor slain in ambush, two others injuredBy Edwin Espejo Dec 23, 2008 12:00AM UTC
GENERAL SANTOS CITY (December 22) – A supervisor of a drilling company was killed while two others were seriously hurt when unidentified armed men fired at their vehicle before midnight Sunday in the remote village of Tablu in Tampakan, South Cotabato.
Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) corporate communications manager John Arnaldo confirmed the incident through e-mail sent to members of the local press here.
Arnaldo said the victim was a supervisor of United Philippines Drilling Inc., a private company hired by SMI to drill potential gold and copper ore deposit sites in the 23,000 hectare mineral development area of the Swiss-controlled mining firm.
SMI declined to identify the identities of the slain supervisor and the two others who were wounded in the ambush pending notification of their respective next of kin.
Arnaldo likewise failed to identify the suspects, saying the company has already coordinated with the local police in the investigation.
Reports however identified the slain supervisor as one Leonardo Ompong. His companions, whose names are still unavailable were brought to a local hospital and are reportedly in stable condition.
The communist-led New People’s Army (NPA) is known to operate in the area and has issued several warnings against the company and its continued drilling and exploration activities.
On New Year’s Day this year, some 40 fully armed NPA regulars raided the main base camp of SMI also in Tablu and burned down the company’s administration building.
They also disarmed the security guards manning the camp and abducted a militiaman in a nearby village on their way to escape.
The rebels reportedly later executed the said militiaman.
The NPA however has yet to own responsibility over the incident.
UPD has been conducting drilling activities of SMI for over three years now.
Most of its foreign consultants are Australian mining experts.
South Cotabato provincial police director Senior Supt. Robert Kiunisala said they are looking at other angles including personal grudges.
Several villagers in Barangay Tablu and nearby villages were arrested and briefly detained middle of this year after South Cotabato Gov. Daisy Vance-Fuentes ordered a stop on illegal small scale mining activities in the area.
Fuentes ordered the closure of small scale mining operations after reports in June from the provincial environment management office (PEMO) revealed that mercury levels in the area have considerably increased.
PEMO chief Ramon Ponce de Leon said the mercury contamination was confirmed in portions of the Pula Bato river based on water quality tests conducted by mining firm Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) since last year.
The subsequent arrest of 26 small scale miners triggered several protest actions from villagers who demanded employment from SMI and culminating in a barricade in September which prevented company employees from accessing their drill site and core farm.