Rep. Fuentes peeved by non-implementation of South Cot's ban on open-pit mining

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/01 August) – Rep. Daisy P. Avance-Fuentes (2nd District, South Cotabato) plans to deliver a privilege speech in the House of Representatives over the non-implementation of the Provincial Environment Code that bans open-pit mining which she signed a day before stepping down as governor on June 30.

Apparently piqued by her successor’s ambivalent stance toward the controversial ordinance, Fuentes said her staff has already started the research work and data gathering for the speech that she warned may give some people public embarrassment.

The lawmaker last week told local reporters she might deliver her privilege speech in two weeks time to give the environment code wider media attention.

The ordinance carries major implications for a mining project in Tampakan, South Cotabato, site of one of the world’s largest copper and gold deposits.

Fuentes’ successor, Gov. Arthur Y. Pingoy Jr. initially reacted that he would seek a review to determine the code’s constitutionality but he is now apparently singing a different tune.

“We will implement the code and will have it reviewed if questioned [by any party],” Pingoy said in a local radio interview last week.

There may be no need to have the environment code published in a local newspaper, he added, at the same time saying he’s asking for legal opinions about the matter.

The publication of the environment code is a requisite for it to become operative. Section 179 or the effectivity clause of the code states: “This Code shall take effect fifteen days following the posting requirements and after its full publication compliance for three consecutive issues in a local newspaper of general circulation within the Province of South Cotabato, whichever occurs later.”

Meanwhile, Tampakan Vice Mayor Relly A. Leysa said he is planning to sponsor the endorsement of the ordinance, which to date remains unpublished in a local newspaper, and thus not yet operative.

Leysa said he will propose the adoption of the code by the municipal council once he obtains an official copy or when it is already implemented.

“Even if we [Tampakan Sangguniang Bayan] won’t adopt the code, we will still be covered by it since its effect is province-wide,” he told MindaNews.

Leysa noted he will file the proposal before the Sangguniang Bayan, consistent with his stand as former provincial board member.

He used to sit as ex-officio member, having been the president of the provincial councilors’ league, in the previous Sangguniang Panlalawigan that approved the code.

He said he had voted for the code’s approval because of the lack of technical studies explaining the Tampakan project’s impact on the environment and water resources in the area.

The $5.2 billion Tampakan project is pursued by Sagittarius Mines Inc, which is controlled by Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer, and targeted for commercial operation by 2016.

John B. Arnaldo, Sagittarius Mines corporate communications manager, has said that a local law cannot supersede a national law, referring to Republic Act 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, which does not prohibit open-pit method.

UP College of Law dean Marvic Leonen had earlier told MindaNews that the Local Government Code which is a national law, “requires local government consent before a national project,  e.g. mining, can be allowed.”

“Local government consent can be framed by an ordinance,” he said.

President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III, apparently alarmed by the environment code’s risk to Sagittarius Mines’ massive investment, has ordered seeking a compromise deal between the parties involved. (MindaNews)