South Cot approves environment code, bans open pit mining

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/10 June) – Five years after the provincial board of South Cotabato started deliberations on its environment code, Sangguniang Panlalawigan members finally approved on third and final reading the controversial law that, among others, prohibits open-pit mining in an area where a foreign-backed mining company is eyeing a huge mining operations.

Nine board members voted in favor of the code, one opposed and two abstained.

The move made the local Catholic church and other anti-mining allies happy, but put at risk the massive copper and gold venture by the foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc. which is doing exploratory work in the area and hoping to use the open-pit method.

Vice Gov. Eliordo U. Ogena, the SP’s presiding officer, said they hope to submit the code to Gov. Daisy P. Avance-Fuentes next week for its signing into ordinance, noting that the governor has the power to veto the bill.

The governor, however, said she will not veto the bill.

“The SP reflects the voices of the people, and they voted landslide to approve the environment code,” the outgoing governor said, promising to sign it before she leaves office on June 30.

The local Catholic church is ecstatic, saying the SP’s move was “divine intervention.”

“The decision of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan to approve the environment code that bans open pit mining is a good legacy to the people of South Cotabato and neighboring areas,” said Fr. Romeo Q. Catedral, social action director of the Diocese of Marbel.

The regional chapter of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry also praised the code, saying it was a victory to the province’s environmental cause. “Those who wish to engage in mining in South Cotabato would have to utilize other methods than open pit, which is considered the cheapest but most destructive to the environment,” said Allan D. Yaphockun, the chamber’s regional governor.

Tampakan town in South Cotabato is at the center of rich resources, particularly copper and gold deposits, that Sagittarius has been pursuing for development. The Tampakan project is touted as the largest undeveloped copper resources in Southeast Asia.

But John B. Arnaldo, Sagittarius corporate communications manager, said the provincial ban on open pit mining “won’t have a bearing in as far as the plans of the company to pursue the Tampakan project” is concerned. He stressed that the Philippine Mining Act, or Republic Act 7942, allows open pit mining. “A local law cannot supersede a national law,” he pointed out earlier.

Sagittarius’s 40-percent controlling equity in the Tampakan project is held by Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer, with 62.5 percent, while the rest is owned by Australian firm Indophil Resources NL.

The 60-percent non-controlling equity shareholders of Sagittarius are the Tampakan Mining Corp. and Southcot Mining Corp., known as the Tampakan Group of Companies.

Indophil is in negotiations with Zijin Mining Group Co. Ltd, China’s largest gold producer and third largest copper producer, for the acquisition of its interest in the Tampakan project, which also straddles the towns of Columbio in Sultan Kudarat and Kiblawan in Davao del Sur.

Based on Sagittarius’s latest resource estimates, the Tampakan project involves 2.4 billion tons of minerals, containing 13.5 million tons of copper and 15.8 million ounces of gold. (MindaNews)