SouthCot Gov admits being pressured by pro and anti-mining camps

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/20 June) – South Cotabato Governor acknowledges s being pressured by both pro and anti-mining camps as the deadline she set for her to sign the Provincial Environment Code into law – before June 30 – nears.

The controversial Code was passed on June 9 by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan but it will take effect only when the governor signs it into law.

The Code bans open pit mining, the method being eyed by Sagittarius Mines, Inc.  (SMI) for its gold and copper project.

It is also the method being eyed by coal miners.

“Our coal resources in Ned, Lake Sebu are best mined through open-pit method also, thus investments there will likely be hampered by the environment code,” she told reporters last week.

Should the coal production there start, some 12,000 families will be affected, she noted.

Barangay Ned is a government-designated relocation site, which is among the reasons why the company is facing stiff opposition from the communities.

Due to the near-to-surface location of the coal reserves in Ned,  the best option, according to miners, is to go open-pit mining.

San Miguel Corporation has bought the mining project of Sultan Energy Philippines Corp, one of the three holders of coal operating contracts (COC) in Barangay Ned’s Daguma mountain range.

Jose F. Alcantara, the new chief executive officer of MG Mining and Energy Corp, earlier this month said sister company Sultan Energy and San Miguel finalized the buy-out transaction in mid-May.

Alcantara said that at the time of purchase, Sultan Energy was in the “final stages of exploration, going into full commercial production.”

Studies showed that Daguma Mountain Range contains coal resources of 426 million metric tons.

Initial exploration and drilling has blocked 55 million metric tons of minable reserves in 526 hectares of the mountain range.

San Miguel earlier announced it purchased Daguma Agro Minerals, Inc, which holds another coal operating contract in the Daguma mountain range in Lake Sebu town. Reports also said that San Miguel has acquired Bonanza Energy Resources Corp. Daguma Agro and Bonanza Energy are sister companies.

The diversifying food and beverage giant plans to build a 300-megawatt minemouth coal-fired power plant in this city, dubbed the “Tuna Capital of the Philippines.”

But Fr. Romeo Q. Catedral, social action director of the Diocese of Marbel, said “Ned is a watershed area. Mining the coal there would pose not only environmental risks but will also threaten food security.”

On the planned coal-fired power plant of San Miguel, Catedral urged the city council to block the venture, citing it poses danger to marine-rich Sarangani Bay.

He said that if San Miguel pushes with its plans, the region would become a coal-fired power plant hub.

The Alcantara –led Conal Holdings Corp earlier announced it will construct a 200 MW coal-fueled power plant in Maasim, Sarangani province.

Sagittarius Mines, Inc. also plans to construct its own coal-fired power plant in Malalag town, Davao del Sur to support its massive Tampakan copper and gold project in Tampakan, South Cotabato.

Majority of Sagittarius’s 40-percent controlling equity in the Tampakan project is held by Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer, teaming up with Australian firm Indophil Resources NL.

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

Governor Fuentes last week said the provincial board which passed the Code “reflects the voices of the people, and they voted landslide to approve (it). I will sign that before I leave office (on June 30), she said.

“The decision for that issue was overwhelming. It’s difficult to veto it and I have no reason to veto the same,” she said.

In earlier interviews, Fuentes said she wanted to hear Sagittarius Mines’ side on a 2008 study by British experts Robert Goodland and Clive Wicks that reported the Tampakan project will dry up a river system traversing the lowlands of South Cotabato which thrive on agriculture.

She noted that for the five years that the environment code was under deliberation, the mining company failed to provide technical details of the project despite repeated demands.

The governor, in a dialogue with leaders of the protesters, said she may veto the environment code if Sagittarius can convince her that the project would not be disastrous to the environment and the livelihood of thousands of farmers. (MindaNews)