GENERAL SANTOS CITY(MindaNews/14 July) –Expectedly, Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) welcomed the issuance of Executive Order 79, hoping the dictum that primacy of national law over local legislation will be the final arbiter in its bid to obtain the required environmental compliance certificate (ECC) it needs to proceed with its Tampakan copper and gold project.
No sooner, in fact in [its eager] anticipation, than the ink of the order has dried up, SMI sponsored a forum discussing the economic impact of its project in South Cotabato, the host province, and in the region.
SMI cannot be faulted for its aggressive campaign to have their deal done. Its parent company, Xstrata Plc, had already spent well over P10 billion since the latter exercised its option in 2007 in acquiring majority shares of SMI.
It recently tapped the services of consulting firm Louie-Berger to assist in its ECC re-application after the Environmental Management Bureau denied SMI’s bid early this year.
Reason for the denial? Its open pit mining method of extracting the vast quantity of copper and gold ore deposits in Tampakan, South Cotabato will violate the provincial environment code of the province.
SMI is trying to give the public the impression that EO 79 automatically rendered the provincial environment code ‘unconstitutional.’
Far from it.
Only the court can rule on its constitutionality as mere issuance of an EO cannot clip the powers of local government units to legislate ordinances vested upon them under the 1987 Constitution and fortified under the 1991 Local Government Code.
Any policy articulated by the executive order will still have to be translated into a law.
“(W)e just have to wait for that. In the meantime, things are obviously rather at a standstill,” Philex Mines honcho and top industry leader Manny Pangilinan told www.rappler.com.
Even environment secretary Ramon Paje cautioned everybody that the open pit ban “remains valid until invalidated by competent authorities.”
SMI’s initial enthusiasm when it welcomed the Aquino order may have been a little bit too early.
The next best thing for SMI would have been to question the constitutionality of the provincial environment code before the Supreme Court, which many of my lawyer friends said should have been the tact taken by the besieged mining company. But SMI is apparently reluctant to take the risk aside from the time and resources that may be needed to obtained a ruling in its favor.
SMI will now have to wait for a more definitive act from Congress. It sure will lobby hard to have the local ordinance superseded by a special law.
Or it can wait for a ‘friendlier’ provincial board/local government unit until the next elections in 2013.
Whatever, SMI has the resources to make things happen their way. Of course that will also depend on how anti-open pit mining advocates guard their previous victories.
(Edwin G. Espejo writes for www.asiancorrespondent.com)