No action yet on petition to review South Cotabato ban on open-pit mining

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/05 January) – Sixteen months after the petition to review the open bit ban  was brought before the Sangguiang Panlalawigan of South Cotabato, the matter is  “still under serious study” by the legislators.

The petition was aimed at allowing Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI)  to go on commercial stream in 2016.

SMI, which is controlled by Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer, intends to use open-pit mining for its Tampakan copper-gold project, which has an estimated capital requirement of $5.9 billion.

SP board member Ernesto Catedral said legislators belonging to committees tasked to act on the petition have yet to submit their positions.

“The petition is “still under serious study” by the members…We are guided by what should be the good for many of the constituents as well as (to ensure) the protection of our environment,” he said.

“If we maintain the status quo, there’s no harm done to our people,” Catedral stressed.

The ban on open-pit mining stands until a unanimous decision to lift it is reached by the board members, he said.

The petition to lift the prohibition has been pending before the joint committees on environmental protection and justice and legal matters, both chaired by Catedral.

Board member Jose Madanguit Jr., vice chair of the committee on environment protection, has submitted a position that he does not favor a review of the open-pit mining ban.

Madanguit was former chair of the committee on environment protection of the previous SP that approved the controversial environment code, which former South Cotabato governor and now 2st District Rep. Daisy Avance Fuentes signed into law in June 2010.
Vice Gov. Elmo Tolosa earlier told reporters that petitioners have been lobbying with individual SP members to favor the review of the environment code for the eventual lifting on the ban on open-pit mining.

The petition to review the open-pit mining ban, filed by the Regional Mineral Development Council in September 2010, was anchored on two 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.

South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Pingoy Jr. has repeatedly said he would implement the ban on open-pit mining unless a court nullifies it or the SP lifts it.

The implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the environment code came in March 2011.

John Arnaldo, Sagittarius Mines corporate communications manager, said the company is pinning hopes the SP would favor a review of the environment code to lift the open-pit mining ban as pushed by pro-mining groups.

Arnaldo noted that the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 or Republic Act 7942 does not prohibit open-pit mining method. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)