KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/19 February)—Castigating Environment Secretary Ramon Paje for flip-flopping on the agency’s decision to now give foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc. an environmental compliance certificate (ECC), South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Y. Pingoy Jr. said Tuesday the provincial government will not overturn its controversial ban on open pit mining.
“Previously, the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) did not approve the ECC of SMI because of our ban on open-pit. Now, the agency has a different stand,” Pingoy told MindaNews.
Nonetheless, the governor said the provincial government would not back down because of the ECC approval of DENR for SMI, which is controlled by Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer.
The open-pit ban is contained in the environment code of the province that was approved in June 2010.
“Our environment code is legal, and I am bound to implement that unless nullified by a proper court,” Pingoy stressed.
Two or three weeks ago, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan also reiterated that the prohibition on open pit mining will remain, after Justice Secretary Leila de Lima threatened to file cases against local government units (LGUs) with ordinances that supposedly counter Republic Act 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, Pingoy stressed.
Manolo Labor, SMI external communications and media relations superintendent, said they were informed around lunchtime Tuesday that Paje has approved the “proposed ECC from DENR.”
“Our office in Manila received a signed copy from the Environmental Management Bureau, which issues the ECC,” Labor, who admitted he still has to read the document, said in a separate phone interview.
Labor repeatedly referred to the document as “a proposed ECC,” claiming that the “company has to agree with the government the conditions set therein.”
Fr. Rey Ondap, head of the Justice and Peace for Integrity of Creation of the Passionist congregation, also slammed the decision of the DENR to issue an ECC to SMI.
‘The ECC issuance is the death certificate to the IPs (indigenous peoples) and the people of Region 11 and 12. This is the bossy action of PNoy (President benigno Aquino III) betraying the future generation of this place,” the priest said in a text message.
Lawyer Carlos Zarate, second nominee of Bayan Muna partylist, also condemned the issuance of ECC by the DENR to SMI, noting it shows the utter disregard of the Aquino administration to the sentiments and welfare of the people in South Cotabato and other affected areas.
“That the DENR denied it twice in the past due to the open-pit mining ordinance of South Cotabato is proof that this latest move in total turnaround is a brazen surrender of the Aquino administration to the interest of the foreign, large-scale and destructive mining interests. Matuwid na daan is nothing but to satisfy the greed for profit of this administration and its capitalist sponsors,” he said.
Zarate, a native of South Cotabato province, noted the ECC “is an insult to the letter and spirit of genuine local autonomy and an insult to the people and local officials of South Cotabato.”
“It is also an insult to the memory of the Lumads who died defending their ancestral domain,” he said.
In rejecting the application of SMI for an ECC, Paje said in a memorandum dated January 3, 2012: “We are returning herewith the application documents with instruction to deny the same, without prejudice to resubmission, until the issues and concern on the use of open-pit mining method shall have been clarified and resolved by the company [SMI] with the provincial government of South Cotabato.”
The company later appealed his decision but Paje still rejected it.
In a press release Tuesday approving the ECC for the $5.9-billion Tampakan project, Paje said the grant of ECC to SMI was “subject to certain conditions,” and failure to comply may result in the cancellation of the ECC.
Paje said an environmental permit was issued to SMI upon the recommendation of the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), an agency attached to the DENR which reviewed the ECC application.
According to Paje, the ECC covers the project located in the towns of Tampakan in South Cotabato, Malungon in Sarangani, Columbio in Sultan Kudarat, and Kiblawan in Davao del Sur.
“The EMB has reviewed the requirements of the application for the project and has recommended the issuance of the ECC subject to the implementation of certain conditions presented in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in order to protect and mitigate possible adverse impacts of the project on the community health, welfare and the environment,” Paje pointed out.
The environment chief directed the EMB to strictly monitor SMI’s compliance with the conditions stipulated in the ECC to ensure that environmental considerations are incorporated in all phases and aspects of the Tampakan project.
“SMI should make public the feasibility of the project, ensure that the area does not cover those where mining is prohibited, and ensure social acceptability through consultation with stakeholders,” Paje said.
He also clarified that SMI could only proceed with the implementation of the project after submitting all other necessary government permits and clearances to the EMB, particularly those involving indigenous peoples, the agriculture and agrarian reform departments, and local government units.
Under the ECC, SMI is directed to conform to the provisions involving toxic and solid wastes of several laws on clean air and water and mining. SMI must observe appropriate practices on vegetative restoration, engineering structure, land use, and soil and water management, as well as ensuring proper stockpiling and disposal of generated waste materials and erosion control, the ECC stated.
The mining company is also instructed to protect headwaters, implement an efficient water management system to ensure sustainable use of water, and provide the community with alternative sources of potable water supply, if needed.
Citing provisions of the Philippine Mining Act, the DENR directed the SMI to set up a Multipartite Monitoring Team (MMT) and submit an Environmental Protection and Enhancement Program (EPEP) that would integrate a final mine rehabilitation and decommissioning plan for when the project is terminated or completed. This includes the setting up of contingent and trust funds that would address future concerns for mine rehabilitation, wastes and tailings, and final decommissioning.
SMI was also told to establish a Mine Environmental Protection and Enhancement Office (MEPEO) that would handle environment-related aspects of the project. The MEPEO is also to monitor the project’s actual impacts vis-à-vis predicted ones.
Additionally, the SMI shall submit a Social Development and Management Program (SDMP) to the regional Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) and implement it in coordination with affected barangays.
Meanwhile, the regional offices of the EMB and MGB were directed to coordinate with SMI on conducting an information and education campaign on open-pit mining, which is the technology to be used for the project.
The 9,605-hectare Tampakan project is expected to produce an average annual yield of 375,000 metric tons of copper and 360,000 ounces of gold per year.
May Che Capili, of Mindanao Land Foundation said she was shocked by the ECC approval “knowing the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) have so many loopholes.”
She said SMI could not even assure to maintain the quality of water [at the mining site] once it starts to operate.
“They always highlight the jobs that can be created with mining but not the fact that it will displace all farmers when all the waters run dry with that open pit mining. We will be losing the ‘feeders’ for our rivers,” she added.
Juland R. Suazo, public Information officer of environment group Panalipdan Southern Mindanao, said the issuance of the ECC has violated the right of LGUs to decide on projects within their jurisdiction.
“It was also clear to us that the local government of Koronadal categorically denied the application of SMI due to the Provincial Environmental Code which bans open pit mining. Such policy stands,” Suazo said.
He added the Aquino government just wanted to please SMI, and ignored the legitimate concerns of affected communities and the human rights abuses against the B’laan tribe.
Suazo warned Malacanang might also reverse the moratoriums declared by LGUs on 10 mining companies in Capiz, Guimaras, Romblon, Negros Occidental, Mindoro Occidental, Mindoro Oriental, Marinduque, Western Samar, Northern Samar and Batangas.
These mining moratoriums are hard-won victories of struggles waged by ordinary rural folk and local government officials, he added.
“This is a brainless decision. It seems that President Aquino values the interest of foreign miners more than the lives and safety of our people and the pristine environment in Mindanao. The Aquino government’s approval of the project will surely encourage the people to resist more in different ways. This will only add fire to the volatile situation in the mining-affected areas,” Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan said in a statement today.
“With this approval, the government as always will increase the military forces and intensify militarization in the mining-affected areas to dissuade the people in opposing the project. This will definitely result in more violence and increasing human rights violations,” he warned.
He cited the death last October 18, 2012 of Juvy Capion, wife of anti-mining tribal leader Daguil, and her two minor sons in what the military claimed was a shootout with Daguil’s group.
“Recently a B’laan tribal warrior was also killed in a military operation last month. Several anti-mining activists were also assassinated because of their opposition to the project, one of which is Eliezer Billanes in March 2009,” he added. (Bong Sarmiento with reports from Carolyn O. Arguillas, H. Marcos C. Mordeno and Violeta M. Gloria/MindaNews)