Robredo hit for ordering suspension of South Cotabato open-pit mine ban

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/01 December) — Acting Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse M. Robredo drew flak from local government officials in South Cotabato for ordering the suspension of the implementation of the provincial environment code that bans open pit mining.

South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Y. Pingoy Jr. confirmed Tuesday night that Robredo recently issued a memorandum ordering the provincial government to refrain from implementing the code pending its review.

Pingoy noted that, after consultation with their lawyers, the DILG has no power to dictate the provincial government on matters like implementation of ordinances.

“It’s only the court who can issue a stoppage order. I will implement the open-pit ban of the environment code unless the court renders an order voiding it,” Pingoy said in a radio interview.

The environment code was seen as a stumbling block to the massive copper and gold project of Sagittarius Mines Inc, which is controlled by Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer.

Australian firm Indophil Resources NL holds the rest of the equity (37.5 percent) in the Tampakan project of Sagittarius Mines which straddles the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Davao del Sur.

The Tampakan project is touted as the largest undeveloped copper-gold deposit in Southeast Asia.

Diversifying Filipino conglomerate San Miguel Corp. is eyeing to buy 100 percent of Indophil, where it already purchased a 10.1-percent interest valued at $40 million. The terms included an exclusivity period that will expire on Jan. 10, 2011.

Sagittarius Mines, which declared the use of open-pit method in extracting the shallow deposits, plans to start commercial production in 2016. It has revised the development cost for the Tampakan project to $5.9 billion from $5.5 billion, including the provision of $900 million for a dedicated power station.

As he rejected the DILG’s order, Pingoy said the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the environment code is still being hammered, with the sector who support the open-pit mining ban forming part of the technical working group.

Robredo’s memorandum opined that the ban on open pit mining is not in accordance with Republic Act 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.

“In view thereof, you are hereby enjoined to cause the immediate suspension of the implementation of said ordinance pending its review,” the memorandum stated.

Vice Gov. Elmo B. Tolosa, presiding officer of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, said that Robredo’s order triggered negative reactions from the provincial board members.

“The function of the DILG is supervisory in nature. As to what we can do, as long as it is within the purview of the local government code and the Constitution, they can’t dictate on us,” Tolosa said.

“Many of us were dismayed by his order,” the vice governor added.

The provincial board committees where requests for the review of the code have been referred have reportedly deferred actions on the matter pending the completion of the IRR.

South Cotabato Rep. Daisy P. Avance Fuentes (second district) and Fr. Romeo Q. Catedral, social action director of the Diocese of Marbel, also blasted Robredo’s memorandum, with both stressing that only the courts can order to stop the code’s implementation.

Fuentes signed the environment code before stepping down as the provincial governor in June while the Diocese of Marbel has been stoutly opposing the Tampakan project. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)