SoCot’s controversial environment code up for publication

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/9 Sept) – The provincial government of South Cotabato has finally approved the budget for the publication of the controversial environment code that bans open-pit mining.

Publication of the 58-page code for three consecutive issues is now up for bidding among local publications, according to Vice Gov. Elmo B. Tolosa, the presiding officer of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.

The ordinance’s publication is the last step before it becomes operative as a local law.

The code’s Section 22 (b) prohibits open-pit mining, a provision seen as a stumbling block to the massive investment of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc., said to be the single largest investment in Mindanao should the project push through.

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.

Amid the approval of the budget for the code’s publication is the mounting pressure from sectors supportive of the mining industry for the provincial board to review the code.

Tolosa said the issue has been referred to the committees of environment and legal matters who are set to discuss it in the next few days. The move, he said, came after three mayors within the mines development site and the Regional Mineral Development Council (RMDC) formally lodged separate petitions to review the environment code.

For Tolosa, it is better to have the code published first before undertaking a review.

Constancio A. Paye Jr., of the regional Mines and Geosciences Bureau, agreed with the vice governor, that a review of the code is premature if it has not been published.

“What would be the basis for the review if it has not been officially published to warrant its effectivity as a local law?” asked Paye, who also chairs the RMDC which last week submitted its resolution asking for a review of the code.

The RMDC sought a review of the code 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.

The RMDC resolution noted that the Philippine Mining Act, which was enacted by Congress, allow the use of open-pit method whereas Section 22 of the provincial code prohibits it.

Section 22, too, 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, RMDC added. (MindaNews)