Reg’l mining body to SouthCot legislature: review Environment Code re ban on open-pit mining

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/06 September) — A regional mining development policy-making body has formally asked the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of South Cotabato to review the controversial Environment Code that bans open-pit mining in the area.

Constancio A. Paye, Jr., regional director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, also head of the Regional Mineral Development Council (RMDC), said the latter submitted last Wednesday a resolution requesting for a review of the Environment Code on the grounds that it was contrary to Republic Act 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 and to a “great extent,” Republic Act 8371 or the Indigenous People’s Rights Act of 1997.

“We hope they will act on it,” said Paye.

The ban on open-pit mining method is contained in Section 22 of the South Cotabato Environment Code.

“The Philippine Mining Act and its implementing rules and regulations allow for, and regulate, the use of open-pit method in the Philippines. Section 22 therefore purports to prohibit an activity that is expressly permitted and regulated by a law duly enacted by the Congress of the Republic of the Philippines,” the resolution read.

Also, the RDMC argued, “Section 22 denies the inherent right of indigenous peoples within the province of South Cotabato to self-determination with respect to the use of natural resources within their ancestral domain, contrary to their rights under the Indigenous People’s Rights Act.”

Other lawyers have argued that the provincial government’s decision to ban open-pit mining is within its powers under the Local Government Code which is also a national law.

Paye said they are still waiting for the official reply of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan whether it would act on the petition positively. Earlier, the local Catholic Church and other environmental groups vowed protest actions once the Environment Code is overruled.

But board member Jose M. Madanguit, vice-chair of the environment committee, said it is still premature to review the Environment Code as it has not become a law since the publication requirement in a local newspaper has not been met due to lack of budget.

He said the provincial board will study the RMDC resolution and also the calls from local government leaders in the mines development site to reconsider the open-pit ban.

Madanguit, environment committee chair in the previous provincial board that approved the environment code, said they are prepared to defend the Environment Code.

The current composition of the provincial board, is reportedly still dominated by the allies of  Rep. Daisy P. Avance-Fuentes, who signed the Environment Code shortly before stepping down on June 30 as three-term governor of the province.

The Evironment Code was seen as a stumbling block to the  massive investment of foreign-back Sagittarius Mines, Inc. to develop the Tampakan project.

Controlled by Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer, Sagittarius Mines announced it will pour in an investment of $5.2 billion for the commercial operation of the Tampakan project targeted to start in 2016.

Sagittarius Mines is currently in the exploration stage for the Tampakan project, touted as the largest undeveloped copper deposit in Southeast Asia with potentials to yield 12.8 million tons of copper and 15.2 million ounces of gold. (MindaNews)