Church pushes campaign to declare Tampakan mountains as protected area

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/16 January) —The Diocese of Marbel has intensified the campaign for the declaration of the mountains in Tampakan, South Cotabato as a protected area, which would effectively ban all forms of mining activities there.

Tampakan Vice Mayor Relly Leysa said on Monday that Diocese of Marbel Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez asked him Sunday to spearhead moves to declare the town’s mineral-rich mountains as a protected area.

“We will study the proposal for a possible [resolution for a] watershed declaration in our mountains after we receive the letter from the bishop,” Leysa told MindaNews.

Last Friday, Gutierrez and Fr. Gillarme Joy Peliño, director of the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Marbel, separately wrote the provincial executive and legislative departments to facilitate the declaration of the mountains in Tampakan as a protected area.

Under the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992 or Republic Act 7586, an approval by Congress is needed for the establishment of a protected area.

The mountains of Tampakan host massive copper and gold deposits, which foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines Inc. wants to exploit.

But the efforts to bring it on commercial stream suffered a debacle when it was confirmed over the weekend that the company’s application for environmental compliance certificate was rejected by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Environment Secretary Ramon Paje has instructed the Environmental Management Bureau to deny the ECC application “without prejudice to resubmission, until the issues and concerns on the use of open-pit mining method shall have been clarified and resolved by the company with the provincial government of South Cotabato.”

The open-pit ban was contained in the province’s environment code that was approved in June 2010.

Sagittarius Mines will employ open-pit method for the Tampakan project, described as the largest known undeveloped copper-gold deposit in Southeast Asia.

Leysa said the Sangguniang Bayan is on a “wait-and-see” mode if it will separately declare the adoption of the environment code although its coverage is already province-wide.

Moves to review the environment code for the possible lifting of the ban on open-pit mining remains pending before the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of South Cotabato.

Ernesto Catedral, chair of the joint committees on environmental protection and justice and legal matters, did not respond to a question whether the board members would decide on the request to lift the ban with the DENR”s rejection of Sagittarius Mines’ ECC application.

But Vice Gov. Elmo Tolosa, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan presiding officer, said the DENR decision indicates that the position of the province has a point.

“We have been invoking local autonomy and we did not prohibit mining in the province. What we bar is only the method,” Tolosa said.

He said they are thankful the DENR “has seen the light” when it rejected the ECC application of SMI and instructed the company to resolve the problem with the provincial government of South Cotabato.

Bishop Gutierrez asked the provincial government to stand pat on banning open-pit mining in the area, noting that “enlightened voters” are closely watching them.

Sagittarius Mines, which expressed extreme disappointment, has said it will appeal the decision of the DENR. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)