NEDA questions coal mining project in protected area

Rosa Lemana, supervising economic and development specialist of NEDA Region 12, said that based on the region’s land-use plan, the entire 24,000 hectares covered by the coal-rich village of Ned is part of the watershed area of the Allah Valley River System, which is considered one of the biggest in Mindanao.

She said the area is also covered by the provisions of Republic Act 7586 or the National Integrated Protected Areas Systems (NIPAS) Act of 1992. Lake Sebu’s 92,450 hectare forests and wetlands was declared a Protected Landscape by Proclamation No. 2455 issued on September 14, 1985.

“The law clearly says that mining activities are not allowed in the protected areas,” Lemana said at a joint special session of the Provincial Development Council and the Provincial Board here this morning.

The special session was personally called by South Cotabato Gov. Daisy Avance-Fuentes to shed light on the ongoing explorations in the area by coal mining firms Daguma Agro-Minerals Inc., Bonanza Energy Resources Inc. and MG Mining and Energy Corporation.

During the deliberations, Lemana questioned why the Department of Energy (DOE) issued an exploration coal operating contract (COC) to Daguma and allowed it to conduct drilling activities despite the fact that the proposed mining area is part of a protected watershed.

“It appears that we have conflicting policies about this matter but we just want to know if DOE ever considered the NIPAS law when they allowed this company to operate in the area?” Lemana asked.

Ruel Malapitan, a representative of the DOE central office, claimed his department was not aware that the proposed mining area is actually part of a protected watershed when it first issued an exploration permit to Daguma. Daguma initially showed interest about the area’s coal mining prospects in 1994.

“Frankly, we did not find any database that would have informed us that Barangay Ned is a protected watershed area. But we assure you that we would not have issued any permit to Daguma had we known about this matter earlier,” he said.

Malapitan said he would immediately inform DOE officials regarding the status of the proposed Lake Sebu coal mining project area.

He said the DOE and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) have earlier created a special committee that handles conflicts concerning the policies and laws related to their respective operations.

“We will immediately elevate this concern to the committee,” Malapitan vowed.  
The DOE issued an exploration COC to Daguma, which is financed by United Kingdom-based company Crew Gold Corporation, on November 19, 2002. MG Mining secured its exploration COC on February 23, 2005 while Daguma’s sister company Bonanza got a separate exploration COC on May 26, 2005.

In a company briefer, Daguma said its concession covered at least 2,000 hectares but its proposed coal mine development and production area, which reportedly has a potential production capacity of 100 million metric tons of coal, would only cover around 300 hectares.

Daguma, headed by Benjamin Guingona, brother of former Vice President Teofisto Guingona, is winding up its explorations and has been preparing for a “multimillion coal development and production project” in the area.

Fuentes, who was visibly annoyed with the DOE representative’ s explanation, challenged the agency to review various laws that concern the proposed coal development project in Lake Sebu.

The governor pointed out that the local governments of South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat have been jointly spending P3 million yearly in the last three years for the operations of the Allah Valley Landscape Development Alliance (AVLDA).

AVLDA was earlier created by both local governments to spearhead the conservation and protection activities for the entire Allah Valley area and the Allah River system, which traverses at least nine towns and one city within the two provinces.

“We are not against mining, we should be clear on that. We welcome investors to our province if we can see that they can make the lives of our people better and can sustain it. If not, then we will put up a fight (against them),” she added.

Fuentes reiterated Lemana’s questions saying the provincial government is also facing the same problem with the proposed copper and gold mining project of the Australian-backed mining company Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI).

She said SMI’s proposed mining development area covers a watershed area of the major water systems in South Cotabato, Sarangani and Sultan Kudarat provinces, specifically of Lake Buluan.

Fuentes said she is set to consult local environment officials to clarify such matter and explain the possible impact of SMI proposed operations to the area’s environment.

But Rolando Doria, SMI’s project coordinator, clarified this afternoon that their proposed project area is not a declared watershed zone.

“Our mining development area is an identified watershed area but it is not a declared protected watershed. The NIPAS law only covers those that were declared or proclaimed by the government as protected areas,” he said.

Doria said the company is currently conducting a comprehensive study on the area’s waters systems as part of their environmental protection and conservation program.